The sex hormone testosterone is far more than just the stuff of the alpha male's swagger. Though it plays a more significant role in the life of the biological male, it is actually present in both sexes to some degree. Despite popular perceptions that testosterone primarily controls aggression and sex drive—although it does play a role in both of those things—research has shown that individual levels of testosterone are also correlated with our language skills and cognitive abilities. Testosterone occurs in the body naturally, but can be administered as a medication, too: its most common uses are in the treatment of hypogonadism and breast cancer, as well as in hormone therapy for transgender men.
A number of research groups have tried to further define the relationship of testosterone and body composition by artificial alteration of testosterone levels in eugonadal populations. Induction of a hypogonadal state in healthy men (Mauras et al 1998) or men with prostate cancer (Smith et al 2001) using a gonadotrophin-releasing-hormone (GnRH) analogue was shown to produce increases in fat mass and decreased fat free mass. Another experimental approach in healthy men featured suppression of endogenous testosterone production with a GnRH analogue, followed by treatment with different doses of weekly intramuscular testosterone esters for 20 weeks. Initially the experiments involved men aged 18–35 years (Bhasin et al 2001) but subsequently the study was repeated with a similar protocol in men aged 60–75 years (Bhasin et al 2005). The different doses given were shown to produce a range of serum concentrations from subphysiological to supraphysiological (Bhasin et al 2001). A given testosterone dose produced higher serum concentrations of testosterone in the older age group (Bhasin et al 2005). Subphysiological dosing of testosterone produced a gain in fat mass and loss of fat free mass during the study. There were sequential decreases in fat mass and increases in fat free mass with each increase of testosterone dose. These changes in body composition were seen in physiological and supraphysiological treatment doses. The trend was similar in younger versus older men but the gain of fat mass at the lowest testosterone dose was less prominent in older patients (Bhasin et al 2001; Bhasin et al 2005). With regard to muscle function, the investigators showed dose dependent increases in leg strength and power with testosterone treatment in young and older men but there was no improvement in fatigability (Storer et al 2003; Bhasin et al 2005).
However, a review of a United Kingdom medical record database found no evidence that the use of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors independently increase the risk for ED. In 71,849 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the risk of ED was not increased with the use of finasteride or dutasteride only (odds ratio [OR] 0.94), or a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor plus an alpha blocker (OR 0.92) compared with an alpha blocker only. In addition, the risk of ED was not increase in 12 346 men prescribed finasteride 1 mg for alopecia, compared with unexposed men with alopecia (OR 0.95). The risk of ED did increase with longer duration of BPH, regardless of drug exposure. [48]
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Cross-sectional studies conducted at the time of diagnosis of BPH have failed to show consistent differences in testosterone levels between patients and controls. A prospective study also failed to demonstrate a correlation between testosterone and the development of BPH (Gann et al 1995). Clinical trials have shown that testosterone treatment of hypogonadal men does cause growth of the prostate, but only to the size seen in normal men, and also causes a small increase in prostate specific antigen (PSA) within the normal range (Rhoden and Morgentaler 2005). Despite growth of the prostate a number of studies have failed to detect any adverse effects on symptoms of urinary obstruction or physiological measurements such as flow rates and residual volumes (Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2000, 2001). Despite the lack of evidence linking symptoms of BPH to testosterone treatment, it remains important to monitor for any new or deteriorating problems when commencing patients on testosterone treatment, as the small growth of prostate tissue may adversely affect a certain subset of individuals.
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