Accused of everything from sex to violence and rock and roll, testosterone is perhaps the most misunderstood hormone of all. Generally recognized as vital for libido, this important hormone offers a number of benefits to both men and women. While it obviously governs sexual desire and behavior, testosterone also helps build and maintain healthy body tissues, including lean muscle and bone. Adequate levels are also associated with cardiovascular health, mental alertness and even overall well-being.
How Low Levels Can Wreak Havoc
Low testosterone levels can reduce libido and even cause a total loss of interest in sex. But they affect more than just your sex life. Below-normal levels of this important hormone have been linked with a number of cardiovascular risk factors, including high cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, hypertension, angina pectoris, atherosclerosis, diabetes, high body mass index (obesity), abdominal fat and an increased tendency to blood clotting.
Several studies published since the 1980s have repeatedly confirmed that, as testosterone levels fall due to age or disease, HDL ("good") cholesterol falls while triglycerides (a dangerous form of fat) rise. In a review of studies on the androgen-lipid relationship, a leading American medical authority on this subject, Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, M.D., of the University of California, San Diego, reported that every major study (of at least 100 men) found a positive association between testosterone and HDL cholesterol levels. She concluded that "Adult men with high normal concentrations of endogenous testosterone have more favorable levels of several major heart disease risk factors, including HDL cholesterol, a more suitable fat pattern and lower glucose and insulin levels than do men with low testosterone concentrations."
Low Testosterone Wastes Bones
Although people often associate osteoporosis with female menopause, aging men are also very vulnerable. In fact, the death rate among men after an osteoporosis-related hip fracture is three times that of women. However, men do not suffer the consequences of this bone-wasting disease until much later in life, simply because men start out with thicker,
In one study, 49 elderly men living on their own were compared with a similar group of men living in nursing homes. The researchers found that bone density was 4 to 20 percent higher among the free-living men than among the institutionalized men. Furthermore, 59 percent of the men with hip fractures had low testosterone levels, compared with only 18 percent of those whose hips were intact. In another study, 68 percent of men with hip fractures were found to have below normal testosterone levels.
The Mood Hormone
Several studies have also shown the importance of testosterone to overall well-being. For example, a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, monitored the mood and emotional status of 54 men with low testosterone levels. The men were generally anxious, irritable and angry, and they expressed a number of negative emotions. They were then given enough testosterone to raise their levels to normal. The results? Their emotions became more positive, and the men reported feeling friendlier and happier.
It is important to remember that emotional negativity may be due to factors other than low testosterone. Other possible causes might include stress, depression or substance abuse, for which testosterone supplementation is clearly not the answer. The best approach is to have a complete blood panel performed, including free and total testosterone levels. If these are low, a replacement therapy program would be appropriate under the supervision of a knowledgeable physician.
Testosterone for Better Health
Increasing testosterone levels with natural testosterone has been shown to have a number of important health benefits. It can help lower many of the risk factors associated with heart disease, including high cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose levels, abdominal fat and the tendency of blood to clot. Testosterone also helps build strong bones, a fact which is often overlooked.
Raising testosterone levels can also improve muscle mass and strength. In a study conducted more than 40 years ago, men who boosted their testosterone levels by taking testosterone esters (synthetic analogues) gained an average of 1.7 kg, a substantial portion of which was new lean muscle mass.
A more recent study conducted at the Harvard Medical School showed a similar effect. A group of men (average age 58 years) who had low testosterone levels were given injections of a testosterone-boosting drug. The researchers measured their bone density, lean body mass and percent body fat before, during and after testosterone replacement. The results indicated that raising testosterone levels for up to 18 months was associated with a 7 percent increase in lean body mass, 14 percent decrease in body fat and a 5 percent increase in spinal bone density.
Reviving Libido with Testosterone
If we consider libido as the engine of sexuality, testosterone is the primary fuel that generates it. It is well documented that men who have low testosterone levels due to either a congenital defect, illness, drug use, trauma or aging, have low sex drives. Eunuchs (castrated men) were well known for their ability to remain unaroused, even in the presence of sexually attractive females.
But can raising testosterone levels restore a sex drive that is virtually nonexistent? The answer is a resounding yes. The ability of testosterone to ignite the sexual interest of men whose flame has long since gone out has been demonstrated in many studies, some dating as far back as the 1930s.
The application of natural testosterone patches (eg, Androderm®, Testoderm®) recently demonstrated the ability to increase sexual desire to similar levels as injections of testosterone esters. This is important because testosterone patch products* can boost testosterone to levels that are comparable to those normally produced by the body, whereas testosterone ester injections cause a long-lasting, unnatural increase in testosterone levels.
In one testosterone patch study, testosterone-deficient men aged 21 to 65 years rated their sexual desire, first during three weeks of testosterone enanthate treatment, then during eight weeks of no testosterone (androgen withdrawal) and finally during 12 months using the testosterone patch. The results showed that during the period of androgen withdrawal, sexual arousal and desire declined significantly. With daily application of the testosterone patch, libido returned and remained elevated throughout the remaining 12 months of the study.
Impotence, which typically occurs in men ages 40 years and beyond, may be helped with testosterone supplements; however, only if the impotence is due to low testosterone levels. Achieving and maintaining an erection is an extremely complex matter, as it involves not just hormones, but several other factors: cognitive (eg, sexual thoughts, fantasies, and mood), cardiovascular and nervous system functions all come into play, as do overall health and energy, stress and drug or alcohol use.
When erectile problems are associated with a testosterone deficiency, boosting testosterone levels can be especially effective. Typical of the research in this area was a small double-blind study in which six men, aged 32 to 65 years, who had been suffering the consequences/symptoms of low testosterone levels for the previous five months (at least), were administered either the long-acting injectable testosterone enanthate, or a placebo, on a monthy basis.
Testosterone enanthate raises and maintains testosterone concentrations to unnaturally high levels. Throughout the course of the study, the men recorded their sexual activity and experiences in a daily log. The study found that raising testosterone levels resulted in large, dose-dependent increases in total erections, nocturnal (sleep) erections, coital attempts, masturbation and orgasms. The authors were impressed with the "rapidity with which the administration of testosterone was followed by the stimulation of sexual activity ... the latency being measured in days rather than weeks."
The effects of the newer, natural testosterone patches is particularly intriguing. In one study, the average number of erections per week increased from 2.3 to 7.8 during testosterone treatment. The researchers also noted significant increases in the duration of erections, as well as in the erectile index, a standard measure of average penile rigidity.
Testosterone for Women
Though it may seem surprising, testosterone increases libido in women, leading them to feel and behave in a more sexual manner. Scientists were once puzzled by the need for females to produce testosterone. Numerous studies have since shown that this hormone is as essential for women as it is for men, only in smaller quantities.
Although estrogen (the primary female sex hormone) has some libido-enhancing effects, studies show that testosterone is usually much more effective. In fact, scientists discovered this about a half century ago. In 1950, researchers compared the effects of estrogen to testosterone in menopausal women. Women who were administered synthetic methyl testosterone increased their libidinous drive by 65 percent, while those who received synthetic estrogen increased it by only 12 percent.
More recent studies on the sexual effects of testosterone show that women receiving the hormone notice an increase in libido, sexual fantasies, levels of sexual arousal and frequency of sexual intercourse. Since most of these studies involved synthetic forms of testosterone, results with the natural hormone should be considered comparable — and safer.
”Wow! This testosterone for women is GREAT!”
Jonathan Wright, M.D., who regularly prescribes natural testosterone to women, sums it up best when he says, "While testosterone is probably not the answer to all [female] sexual problems, it seems to work well for a large number of postmenopausal women who thought a joyful and satisfying sex life was only a distant memory of youth."
In his book, Natural Hormone Replacement for Women over 45, Dr. Wright reminds us that natural testosterone therapy has many of the same health-promoting effects for women as it does for men. It enhances bone strength, can be effective in preventing and reversing osteoporosis and heart disease, can improve mental alertness and well-being, and revive a lagging sex life.