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Testosterone Supplements The New Snake Oil

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Ten years ago some scientists recruited several hundred volunteers and gave them Testosterone or a placebo. Those taking testosterone got stronger, compared with those taking the placebo, and they could carry a load up stairs faster.

But they also had nearly five times the number of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and strokes, and the study ended  early.

Since those findings were published in 2010, studies of testosterone treatment have produced mixed results. A 2012 study of veterans aged 40 and over with low testosterone found that those treated with the hormone were less likely to die, but more recent reports, have documented an increase in cardiovascular risk in men over age 65 taking testosterone, as well as in younger men with a history of heart disease.

FDA Launches Investigation

The Food and Drug Administration said that they were investigating the safety of testosterone products, and will investigate rates of stroke, heart attack and death in men using the drugs.

“Low T” Fake Diagnosis by Charlatans and Quacks

Recently, testosterone has been heavily promoted as a cure-all, a modern day equivalent of Snake Oil, for low energy, low libido, and depression among middle-aged men. “Low T” is a fictitious diagnosis, hatched by the advertisers and pharmaceutical companies, and if one watches television commercials, one would believe there was an epidemic among middle aged men. Couple those ads with ones for erectile difficulties, one would think that our men are falling apart after 40. Ah the power of placebo!

Explosion of Testosterone Use

Between 2001 and 2011, hormone use by men 40 and over nearly quadrupled. By 2011, nearly one in 25 men in their 60s was taking testosterone.

Though the drug is only approved for men with abnormally low testosterone levels, a condition called hypogonadism, doctors have been prescribing it to many men with normal levels.

“For people with truly low testosterone levels, the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Brad Anawalt of the University of Washington in Seattle and an author of the study that found testosterone could help certain veterans. “But for millions of others, it’s in the same category as snake oil.”

Testosterone Decline with Age is Normal

Many physicians prescribe testosterone to men who don’t have the medical diagnosis of hypogonadism and have only borderline low levels that is related to normal age-related hormonal declines. Testosterone levels begin to decline by about 1 percent a year in men at age 30. Testosterone also declines in men who are obese and don’t exercise.

Testosterone the New Product Liability Lawsuits

According to experts, the overuse is similar to another hormonal regimen, estrogen, or hormone replacement therapy, which was widely promoted to menopausal women based on paltry evidence of benefit and lack of vigilance of the potential harm.

Some 20 percent of menopausal women were taking hormones by the time the Women’s Health Initiative finally put the hypothesis to the test in a large government-sponsored clinical trial.

The estrogen and progestin combination increased the risk of blood clots, strokes and breast cancer when compared with a placebo, and did not protect from heart disease.

New Testosterone Trial

The National Institutes of Health is sponsoring a large randomized controlled trial, called the T trial, designed to see whether older men who take testosterone experience better physical, sexual and cognitive function, and whether the hormone reduces risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Low testosterone is associated with health problems in older men, such as bone loss, decreased strength and decreased sex drive, it is not clear that low testosterone is the cause of these problems or that boosting testosterone reverses them, said Dr. Ronald Swerdloff of the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A.