In men with hypogonadism, a low level of testosterone is produced due to a problem in the testicles or the pituitary gland. According to Harvard Medical School, determining exactly what constitutes a low testosterone level is a controversial matter. Levels of this hormone fluctuate wildly and even vary according to the time of day. However, generally physicians only decide to treat a patient for hypogonadism if the blood testosterone level is below 300 ng/dL and the following symptoms outlined by The National Institutes of Health are present.
A team led by Dr. Joel Finkelstein at Massachusetts General Hospital investigated testosterone and estradiol levels in 400 healthy men, 20 to 50 years of age. To control hormone levels, the researchers first gave the participants injections of a drug that suppressed their normal testosterone and estradiol production. The men were randomly assigned to 5 groups that received different amounts (from 0 to 10 grams) of a topical 1% testosterone gel daily for 16 weeks. Half of the participants were also given a drug to block testosterone from being converted to estradiol.
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Research shows little evidence of abnormal or unhealthy psychological changes in men receiving supervised testosterone therapy to treat their low T, according to a study in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management.However, mental and physical risks are involved in self-administration of artificial testosterone. Anyone abusing synthetic testosterone, also known as anabolic steroids, may experience episodes of aggressive or violent behavior, along with physical side effects. Bodybuilders, athletes, or anyone who seeks to build muscle mass or achieve other benefits from artificial testosterone should be aware of these risks.
Mental status changes including excess aggression are a well known phenomenon in the context of anabolic steroid abuse (Perry et al 1990). An increase in self-reported aggressive behaviors have also been reported in one double blind placebo controlled trial of testosterone in young hypogonadal men (Finkelstein et al 1997), but this has not been confirmed in other studies (Skakkebaek et al 1981; O’Connor et al 2002). Aggression should therefore be monitored but in our experience is rarely a significant problem during testosterone replacement producing physiological levels.
The changes in average serum testosterone levels with aging mean that the proportion of men fulfilling a biochemically defined diagnosis of hypogonadism increases with aging. Twenty percent of men aged over 60 have total testosterone levels below the normal range and the figure rises to 50% in those aged over 80. The figures concerning free testosterone are even higher as would be expected in view of the concurrent decrease in SHBG levels (Harman et al 2001).
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Many clinical studies have looked at the effect of testosterone treatment on body composition in hypogonadal men or men with borderline low testosterone levels. Some of these studies specifically examine these changes in older men (Tenover 1992; Morley et al 1993; Urban et al 1995; Sih et al 1997; Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2001; Ferrando et al 2002; Steidle et al 2003; Page et al 2005). The data from studies, on patients from all age groups, are consistent in showing an increase in fat free mass and decrease in fat mass or visceral adiposity with testosterone treatment. A recent meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment effects on body composition confirms this pattern (Isidori et al 2005). There have been less consistent results with regard to the effects of testosterone treatment of muscle strength. Some studies have shown an increase in muscle strength (Ferrando et al 2002; Page et al 2005) with testosterone whilst others have not (Snyder et al 1999). Within the same trial some muscle group strengths may improve whilst others do not (Ly et al 2001). It is likely that the differences are partly due to the methodological variations in assessing strength, but it also possible that testosterone has different effects on the various muscle groups. The meta-analysis found trends toward significant improvements in dominant knee and hand grip strength only (Isidori et al 2005).
It may also become a treatment for anemia, bone density and strength problems. In a 2017 study published in the journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), testosterone treatments corrected anemia in older men with low testosterone levels better than a placebo. Another 2017 study published in JAMA found that older men with low testosterone had increased bone strength and density after treatment when compared with a placebo.
There is a polymorphic CAG repeat sequence in the androgen receptor gene, which codes for a variable number of glutamine amino acids in the part of the receptor affecting gene transcription. A receptor with a short CAG sequence produces greater activity when androgens attach, and men with shorter CAG polymorphisms exhibit androgenic traits, such as preserved bone density (Zitzmann et al 2001) and prostate growth during testosterone treatment (Zitzmann et al 2003). Indirect evidence of the importance of androgens in the development of prostate cancer is provided by case control study findings of a shorter, more active CAG repeat sequence in the androgen receptor gene of patients with prostate cancer compared with controls (Hsing et al 2000, 2002).
Epidemiological data has associated low testosterone levels with atherogenic lipid parameters, including lower HDL cholesterol (Lichtenstein et al 1987; Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003) and higher total cholesterol (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003), LDL cholesterol (Haffner et al 1993) and triglyceride levels (Lichtenstein et al 1987; Haffner et al 1993). Furthermore, these relationships are independent of other factors such as age, obesity and glucose levels (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003). Interventional trails of testosterone replacement have shown that treatment causes a decrease in total cholesterol. A recent meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials confirmed this and found that the magnitude of changes was larger in trials of patients with lower baseline testosterone levels (Isidori et al 2005). The same meta-analysis found no significant overall change in LDL or HDL cholesterol levels but in trials with baseline testosterone levels greater than 10 nmol/l, there was a small reduction in HDL cholesterol with testosterone treatment.