Testosterone is an androgen hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, the testes (in men), and the ovaries (in women). It is often considered the primary male sex hormone. Testosterone stimulates the development of male secondary sex characteristics (like body hair and muscle growth) and is essential in the production of sperm. In women, testosterone plays a role in egg development and ovulation.
A number of epidemiological studies have found that bone mineral density in the aging male population is positively associated with endogenous androgen levels (Murphy et al 1993; Ongphiphadhanakul et al 1995; Rucker et al 2004). Testosterone levels in young men have been shown to correlate with bone size, indicating a role in determination of peak bone mass and protection from future osteoporosis (Lorentzon et al 2005). Male hypogonadism has been shown to be a risk factor for hip fracture (Jackson et al 1992) and a recent study showed a high prevalence of hypogonadism in a group of male patients with average age 75 years presenting with minimal trauma fractures compared to stroke victims who acted as controls (Leifke et al 2005). Estrogen is a well known determinant of bone density in women and some investigators have found serum estrogen to be a strong determinant of male bone density (Khosla et al 1998; Khosla et al 2001). Serum estrogen was also found to correlate better than testosterone with peak bone mass (Khosla et al 2001) but this is in contradiction of a more recent study showing a negative correlation of estrogen with peak bone size (Lorentzon et al 2005). Men with aromatase deficiency (Carani et al 1997) or defunctioning estrogen receptor mutations (Smith et al 1994) have been found to have abnormally low bone density despite normal or high testosterone levels which further emphasizes the important influence of estrogen on male bone density.
In males, the majority of testosterone is secreted from the testes, hence the term “testosterone”. The hormone is also produced in small amounts by the adrenal gland. The production of this hormone is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland receives instructions from the hypothalamus on how much testosterone needs producing and passes this information onto the testicles via chemicals and hormones circulating in the bloodstream.
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Cross-sectional studies conducted at the time of diagnosis of BPH have failed to show consistent differences in testosterone levels between patients and controls. A prospective study also failed to demonstrate a correlation between testosterone and the development of BPH (Gann et al 1995). Clinical trials have shown that testosterone treatment of hypogonadal men does cause growth of the prostate, but only to the size seen in normal men, and also causes a small increase in prostate specific antigen (PSA) within the normal range (Rhoden and Morgentaler 2005). Despite growth of the prostate a number of studies have failed to detect any adverse effects on symptoms of urinary obstruction or physiological measurements such as flow rates and residual volumes (Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2000, 2001). Despite the lack of evidence linking symptoms of BPH to testosterone treatment, it remains important to monitor for any new or deteriorating problems when commencing patients on testosterone treatment, as the small growth of prostate tissue may adversely affect a certain subset of individuals.
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