In the hepatic 17-ketosteroid pathway of testosterone metabolism, testosterone is converted in the liver by 5α-reductase and 5β-reductase into 5α-DHT and the inactive 5β-DHT, respectively. Then, 5α-DHT and 5β-DHT are converted by 3α-HSD into 3α-androstanediol and 3α-etiocholanediol, respectively. Subsequently, 3α-androstanediol and 3α-etiocholanediol are converted by 17β-HSD into androsterone and etiocholanolone, which is followed by their conjugation and excretion. 3β-Androstanediol and 3β-etiocholanediol can also be formed in this pathway when 5α-DHT and 5β-DHT are acted upon by 3β-HSD instead of 3α-HSD, respectively, and they can then be transformed into epiandrosterone and epietiocholanolone, respectively. A small portion of approximately 3% of testosterone is reversibly converted in the liver into androstenedione by 17β-HSD.
Overall, it seems that both estrogen and testosterone are important for normal bone growth and maintenance. Deficiency or failure of action of the sex hormones is associated with osteoporosis and minimal trauma fractures. Estrogen in males is produced via metabolism of testosterone by aromatase and it is therefore important that androgens used for the treatment of hypogonadism be amenable to the action of aromatase to yield maximal positive effects on bone. There is data showing that testosterone treatment increases bone mineral density in aging males but that these benefits are confined to hypogonadal men. The magnitude of this improvement is greater in the spine than in the hip and further studies are warranted to confirm or refute any differential effects of testosterone at these important sites. Improvements seen in randomized controlled trials to date may underestimate true positive effects due to relatively short duration and/or baseline characteristics of the patients involved. There is no data as yet to confirm that the improvement in bone density with testosterone treatment reduces fractures in men and this is an important area for future study.
Male hypogonadism becomes more common with increasing age and is currently an under-treated condition. The diagnosis of hypogonadism in the aging male requires a combination of symptoms and low serum testosterone levels. The currently available testosterone preparations can produce consistent physiological testosterone levels and provide for patient preference.