The development of an erection is a complex event involving integration of psychologic, neurologic, endocrine, vascular, and local anatomic systems. Positron emission tomography scanning studies have suggested that sexual arousal is activated in higher cortical centers that then stimulate the medial preoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus.5 These signals ultimately descend through a complex neural network involving the parasympathetic nervous system and eventually activate parasympathetic nerves in the sacral area (S2 to S4).
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men, and it is responsible for the development of many of the physical characteristics that are considered typically male. Women also produce the hormone in much smaller amounts. Testosterone, part of a hormone class known as androgens, is produced by the testicles after stimulation by the pituitary gland, which is located near the base of the brain, and it sends signals to a male's testicles (or to a woman's ovaries) that spark feelings of sexual desire. (1)
Two of the immediate metabolites of testosterone, 5α-DHT and estradiol, are biologically important and can be formed both in the liver and in extrahepatic tissues. Approximately 5 to 7% of testosterone is converted by 5α-reductase into 5α-DHT, with circulating levels of 5α-DHT about 10% of those of testosterone, and approximately 0.3% of testosterone is converted into estradiol by aromatase. 5α-Reductase is highly expressed in the male reproductive organs (including the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and epididymides), skin, hair follicles, and brain and aromatase is highly expressed in adipose tissue, bone, and the brain. As much as 90% of testosterone is converted into 5α-DHT in so-called androgenic tissues with high 5α-reductase expression, and due to the several-fold greater potency of 5α-DHT as an AR agonist relative to testosterone, it has been estimated that the effects of testosterone are potentiated 2- to 3-fold in such tissues.
If PDE-5 inhibitors are not suitable or don’t work, other therapies include injections into the base of the penis, which cause flow of blood into the penis and a fairly immediate erection that lasts around an hour. The drugs injected are alprostadil (Caverject and Erectile dysfunctionex) and Invicorp (VIP and phentolamine). Alprostadil may also be inserted as a gel into the opening of the penis. This is not suitable if your partner is pregnant.
Important future developments will include selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). These drugs will be able to produce isolated effects of testosterone at androgen receptors. They are likely to become useful clinical drugs, but their initial worth may lie in facilitating research into the relative importance of testosterone’s action at the androgen receptor compared to at other sites or after conversion to other hormones. Testosterone will remain the treatment of choice for late onset hypogonadism for some time to come.
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Barbara Mintzes, at the University of British Columbia, said in a Skype interview, "Androgel was approved for a real condition—men who have a number of clinical or acquired conditions that affect testosterone, either through the testes or pituitary gland. So testosterone replacement therapy makes sense, and producing it in a gel makes sense. Where there is an actual need for the product, there's nothing wrong with that." But, she added, "When this gets marketed for what is essentially healthy aging, the antennas go up."
Several treatments were promoted in the pre-PGE1, pre-prostaglandin era, including yohimbine, trazodone, testosterone, and various herbal remedies. None of these is currently recommended under the updated American Urological Association Guidelines for the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.15 Testosterone supplementation is only recommended for men with low testosterone levels.
Longitudinal studies in male aging studies have shown that serum testosterone levels decline with age (Harman et al 2001; Feldman et al 2002). Total testosterone levels fall at an average of 1.6% per year whilst free and bioavailable levels fall by 2%–3% per year. The reduction in free and bioavailable testosterone levels is larger because aging is also associated with increases in SHBG levels (Feldman et al 2002). Cross-sectional data supports these trends but has usually shown smaller reductions in testosterone levels with aging (Feldman et al 2002). This is likely to reflect strict entry criteria to cross-sectional studies so that young healthy men are compared to older healthy men. During the course of longitudinal studies some men may develop pathologies which accentuate decreases in testosterone levels.
Total levels of testosterone in the body are 264 to 916 ng/dL in men age 19 to 39 years, while mean testosterone levels in adult men have been reported as 630 ng/dL. Levels of testosterone in men decline with age. In women, mean levels of total testosterone have been reported to be 32.6 ng/dL. In women with hyperandrogenism, mean levels of total testosterone have been reported to be 62.1 ng/dL.
Testosterone levels generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood. As you get older, your testosterone level gradually declines — typically about 1 percent a year after age 30 or 40. It is important to determine in older men if a low testosterone level is simply due to the decline of normal aging or if it is due to a disease (hypogonadism).
Type 2 diabetes is an important condition in terms of morbidity and mortality, and the prevalence is increasing in the developed and developing world. The prevalence also increases with age. Insulin resistance is a primary pathological feature of type 2 diabetes and predates the onset of diabetes by many years, during which time raised serum insulin levels compensate and maintain normoglycemia. Insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance are also part of the metabolic syndrome which also comprises an abnormal serum lipid profile, central obesity and hypertension. The metabolic syndrome can be considered to be a pre-diabetic condition and is itself linked to cardiovascular mortality. Table 1 shows the three commonly used definitions of the metabolic syndrome as per WHO, NCEPIII and IDF respectively (WHO 1999; NCEPIII 2001; Zimmet et al 2005).