At the present time, it is suggested that androgen replacement should take the form of natural testosterone. Some of the effects of testosterone are mediated after conversion to estrogen or dihydrotestosterone by the enzymes aromatase and 5a-reductase enzymes respectively. Other effects occur independently of the traditional action of testosterone via the classical androgen receptor- for example, its action as a vasodilator via a cell membrane action as described previously. It is therefore important that the androgen used to treat hypogonadism is amenable to the action of these metabolizing enzymes and can also mediate the non-androgen receptor actions of testosterone. Use of natural testosterone ensures this and reduces the chance of non-testosterone mediated adverse effects. There are now a number of testosterone preparations which can meet these recommendations and the main factor in deciding between them is patient choice.
Before assessing the evidence of testosterone’s action in the aging male it is important to note certain methodological considerations which are common to the interpretation of any clinical trial of testosterone replacement. Many interventional trials of the effects of testosterone on human health and disease have been conducted. There is considerable heterogenicity in terms of study design and these differences have a potential to significantly affect the results seen in various studies. Gonadal status at baseline and the testosterone level produced by testosterone treatment in the study are of particular importance because the effects of altering testosterone from subphysiological to physiological levels may be different from those of altering physiological levels to supraphysiological. Another important factor is the length of treatment. Randomised controlled trials of testosterone have ranged from one to thirty-six months in duration (Isidori et al 2005) although some uncontrolled studies have lasted up to 42 months. Many effects of testosterone are thought to fully develop in the first few months of treatment but effects on bone, for example, have been shown to continue over two years or more (Snyder et al 2000; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004).
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).
Sleep apnea is another frequently listed contraindication to testosterone treatment. There have been a few reports of the development, or worsening, of sleep apnea during testosterone therapy (Matsumoto et al 1985) but sleep apnea is actually associated with lower serum testosterone levels (Luboshitzky et al 2002). The reduction in fat mass during treatment with testosterone could potentially be beneficial for sleep apnea, so many specialists will still consider patients for treatment with appropriate monitoring. It is wise to take a clinical history for sleep apnea during testosterone treatment in all men and perform sleep studies in those who develop symptoms.
Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about for some men. Many men may feel like they need to hide their diagnosis from their partner. "Failure to communicate openly about erectile dysfunction can result in both partners drawing away from the relationship," warns Feloney. Remember that your partner is also affected by your problem; being open and honest is the best way to decrease fear and anxiety. Discuss options for achieving sexual satisfaction together, and be positive — most erectile dysfunction problems can be treated.
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).
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. 
Although not proven, it is likely that erectile dysfunction can be prevented by good general health, paying particular attention to body weight, exercise, and cigarette smoking. For example, heart disease and diabetes are problems that can cause erectile dysfunction, and both are preventable through lifestyle changes such as sensible eating and regular exercise. Furthermore, early diagnosis and treatment of associated conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol may prevent or delay erectile dysfunction, or stop the erectile dysfunction from getting more serious.
The device consists of an acrylic cylinder placed over the penis that uses a lubricant to achieve a good seal between the penile body and cylinder. An erection is then achieved by creating a vacuum inside the cylinder with a pump connected to the cylinder. Once an erection is achieved, a constriction band is applied to the base of the penis to maintain the erection. The cylinder can then be removed and the patient can engage in intercourse with the constriction band at the base of the penis maintaining the erection. The band can remain on for approximately 30 minutes and then must be removed. The erection produced by the device differs from a normal erection likely because of venous occlusion from the constriction band resulting in generalized swelling of the entire penis, with probable preservation of arterial inflow.
“This study establishes testosterone levels at which various physiological functions start to become impaired, which may help provide a rationale for determining which men should be treated with testosterone supplements,” Finkelstein says. “But the biggest surprise was that some of the symptoms routinely attributed to testosterone deficiency are actually partially or almost exclusively caused by the decline in estrogens that is an inseparable result of lower testosterone levels.”
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.
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.
Testosterone replacement therapy may improve energy, mood, and bone density, increase muscle mass and weight, and heighten sexual interest in older men who may have deficient levels of testosterone. Testosterone supplementation is not recommended for men who have normal testosterone levels for their age group due to the risk of prostate enlargement and other side effects. Testosterone replacement therapy is available as a cream or gel, topical solution, skin patch, injectable form and pellet form placed under the skin.
Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date.  Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.
The main surgical treatment of ED involves insertion of a penile implant (also called penile prostheses). Because penile vascular surgery is not recommended for aging males who have failed oral PDE5 inhibitors, ICI or IU therapies, implants are the next step for these patients. Although placement of a penile implant is a surgery which carries risks, they have the highest rates of success and satisfaction among ED treatment options.
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.
Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.
The hormone also plays a role in sex drive, sperm production, fat distribution, red cell production, and maintenance of muscle strength and mass, according to the Mayo Clinic. For these reasons, testosterone is associated with overall health and well-being in men. One 2008 study published in the journal Frontiers of Hormone Research even linked testosterone to the prevention of osteoporosis in men.
These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.
However, testosterone is only one of many factors that aid in adequate erections. Research is inconclusive regarding the role of testosterone replacement in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. In a review of studies that looked at the benefit of testosterone in men with erection difficulties, nearly half showed no improvement with testosterone treatment. Many times, other health problems play a role in erectile difficulties. These can include: