Studies also show a consistent negative correlation of testosterone with blood pressure (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988; Khaw and Barrett-Connor 1988; Svartberg, von Muhlen, Schirmer et al 2004). Data specific to the ageing male population suggests that this relationship is particularly powerful for systolic hypertension (Fogari et al 2005). Interventional trials have not found a significant effect of testosterone replacement on blood pressure (Kapoor et al 2006).
No one will argue with the well-established fact that the dramatic lows of testosterone as seen in castration or other significant primary testicular disturbances such as those induced by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, congenital problems, or as seen in secondary testicular insufficiency (eg, large compressive pituitary or hypothalamic tumors) produce dramatic signs and symptoms of testosterone deficiency that require testosterone replacement therapy. Less clear, or at least more controversial, is the necessity of treating the gentler reduction of testosterone seen in the aging process.
Cardiovascular disease, and its underlying pathological process atherosclerosis, is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed and developing world. Coronary heart disease in particular is the commonest cause of death worldwide (AHA 2002; MacKay and Mensah 2004). As well as increasing with age, this disease is more common in the male versus female population internationally, which has led to interest in the potential role of sex hormones in modulating risk of development of atherosclerosis. Concerns about the potential adverse effects of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease have previously contributed to caution in prescribing testosterone to those who have, or who are at risk of, cardiovascular disease. Contrary to fears of the potential adverse effects of testosterone on cardiovascular disease, there are over forty epidemiological studies which have examined the relationship of testosterone levels to the presence or development of coronary heart disease, and none have shown a positive correlation. Many of these studies have found the presence of coronary heart disease to be associated with low testosterone levels (Reviews: Jones, Jones et al 2003; Jones et al 2005).
Epidemiological studies suggest that many significant clinical findings and important disease states are linked to low testosterone levels. These include osteoporosis (Campion and Maricic 2003), Alzheimer’s disease (Moffat et al 2004), frailty, obesity (Svartberg, von Muhlen, Sundsfjord et al 2004), diabetes (Barrett-Connor 1992), hypercholesterolemia (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003), hypertension (Phillips et al 1993), cardiac failure (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003) and ischemic heart disease (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988). The extent to which testosterone deficiency is involved in the pathogenesis of these conditions, or to which testosterone supplementation could be useful in their treatment is an area of great interest with many unanswered questions.
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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 an increased incidence of hypogonadism in men with rheumatoid arthritis. Tengstrand et al (2002) studied hormonal levels in 104 men with rheumatoid arthritis and 99 age-matched healthy men. They divided their subjects into 3 age groups: 30–49, 40–59, 60–69. Mean non-sex hormone binding globulin-bound testosterone (bioavailable testosterone) was lower in men with rheumatoid arthritis for each of the three groups. LH was also found to be lower in the patients with rheumatoid arthritis suggesting a hypothalamic-pituitary cause of the reduced bioavailable testosterone. Of the 104 men with rheumatoid arthritis, 33 had hypogonadism compared to 7 of the 99 healthy controls.
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A loophole in FDA regulations allows pharmaceutical marketers to urge men to talk to their doctors if they have certain "possible signs" of testosterone deficiency. "Virtually everybody asks about this now because the direct-to-consumer marketing is so aggressive," says Dr. Michael O'Leary, a urologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Tons of men who would never have asked me about it before started to do so when they saw ads that say 'Do you feel tired?'"