Testosterone is included in the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines, which are the most important medications needed in a basic health system. It is available as a generic medication. The price depends on the form of testosterone used. It can be administered as a cream or transdermal patch that is applied to the skin, by injection into a muscle, as a tablet that is placed in the cheek, or by ingestion.
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.
Richard J. Wassersug, PhD, an adjunct professor of urology at the University of British Columbia, described his personal experience with androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). "If you are on ADT," he said, "and you see those Low T ads, what are you supposed to make of it? This produces a cognitive dissonance." He called the ads "hurtful" for suggesting that low testosterone makes a man less of a man.
Overall, few patients have a compelling contraindication to testosterone treatment. The majority of men with late onset hypogonadism can be safely treated with testosterone but all will require monitoring of prostate parameters HDL cholesterol, hematocrit and psychological state. It is also wise to monitor symptoms of sleep apnea. Other specific concerns may be raised by the mode of delivery such as local side effects from transdermal testosterone.
Studies have demonstrated reduced testosterone levels in men with heart failure as well as other endocrine changes (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003). Treatment of cardiac failure with chronic mechanical circulatory support normalizes many of these changes, including testosterone levels (Noirhomme et al 1999). More recently, two double-blind randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment for men with low or low-normal serum testosterone levels and heart failure have shown improvements in exercise capacity and symptoms (Pugh et al 2004; Malkin et al 2006). The mechanism of these benefits is currently unclear, although a study of the acute effects of buccal testosterone given to men with chronic cardiac failure under invasive monitoring showed that testosterone increased cardiac index and reduced systemic vascular resistance (Pugh et al 2003). Testosterone may prove useful in the management of cardiac failure but further research is needed.
Testosterone is necessary for normal sperm development. It activates genes in Sertoli cells, which promote differentiation of spermatogonia. It regulates acute HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) response under dominance challenge. Androgen including testosterone enhances muscle growth. Testosterone also regulates the population of thromboxane A2 receptors on megakaryocytes and platelets and hence platelet aggregation in humans.