In addition to its role as a natural hormone, testosterone is used as a medication, for instance in the treatment of low testosterone levels in men and breast cancer in women. Since testosterone levels decrease as men age, testosterone is sometimes used in older men to counteract this deficiency. It is also used illicitly to enhance physique and performance, for instance in athletes.
The normal development of the prostate gland is dependent on the action of testosterone via the androgen receptor, and abnormal biosynthesis of the hormone or inactivating mutations of the androgen receptor are associated with a rudimentary prostate gland. Testosterone also requires conversion to dihydrotestosterone in the prostate gland for full activity. In view of this link between testosterone and prostate development, it is important to consider the impact that testosterone replacement may have on the prevalence and morbidity associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostate cancer, which are the common conditions related to pathological growth of the prostate gland.
There is increasing interest in the group of patients who fail to respond to treatment with PDE-5 inhibitors and have low serum testosterone levels. Evidence from placebo-controlled trials in this group of men shows that testosterone treatment added to PDE-5 inhibitors improves erectile function compared to PDE-5 inhibitors alone (Aversa et al 2003; Shabsigh et al 2004).
^ Jump up to: a b Sapienza P, Zingales L, Maestripieri D (September 2009). "Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106 (36): 15268–73. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10615268S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0907352106. PMC 2741240. PMID 19706398.
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).
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.
In accordance with sperm competition theory, testosterone levels are shown to increase as a response to previously neutral stimuli when conditioned to become sexual in male rats. This reaction engages penile reflexes (such as erection and ejaculation) that aid in sperm competition when more than one male is present in mating encounters, allowing for more production of successful sperm and a higher chance of reproduction.
Hormone deficiency or hypogonadism, whether primary or secondary, has been thought to impact erectile function. Approximately a third of men in the European Male Aging Study demonstrated low testosterone, suggesting that hypogonadism is overrepresented among men with ED.11 Hormone deficiency, however, is less frequently the cause of ED than diabetes or vascular disease. Many entities with a strong relationship to ED also diminish bioavailable testosterone, including obesity, diabetes, and opioid use. Other hormones involved in testosterone metabolism or availability, like thyroid stimulating hormone and gonadotropins, also may impact erectile quality, presumably through regulating bioavailable testosterone. Understanding the relationship between testosterone and ED has been impaired by a lack of standardized measurement of this hormone and the cyclic nature of its release and consumption.
Several studies accessed the prevalence of ED. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study reported a prevalence of 52%.2 The study demonstrated that ED is increasingly prevalent with age: approximately 40% of men are affected at age 40 and nearly 70% of men are affected at age 70. The prevalence of complete ED increased from 5% at age 40 to 15% at age 70.2 Age was the variable most strongly associated with ED.
"A lot of the symptoms are mirrored by other medical problems," Hedges says. "And for a long time, we were not attributing them to low testosterone, but to diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. But awareness and appreciation of low testosterone has risen. We recognize now that low testosterone may be at the root of problems."
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In a recent study of male workers, men with low testosterone levels had an increased chance of severe erectile dysfunction (Kratzik et al 2005), although such a link had not been found previously (Rhoden et al 2002). Certainly erectile dysfunction is considered part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism, and questions regarding erectile dysfunction form part of the clinical assessment of patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004).