Testosterone therapy has been widely advertised as a way to help aging men improve low sex drive and regain their energy. Indeed, the television ads are ubiquitous. An athletic looking man who appears to be in his forties applies a gel to his underarm, just like he would apply deodorant. Big pharma’s adverstising departments have attempted to convince men that the condition it labeled “low T” is an epidemic applicable to nearly every man, and that men should treat this condition with prescription testosterone. The truth is that “low T” is not as common as the television advertisements for such prescription testosterone supplements as Androgel would have men believe. The advertisements attempt to convince otherwise healthy men that normal effects of aging like having a little less energy or sex drive constitutes a disease, which requires a prescription to treat it.
This generation of middle-aged men refuses to grow old, which is why pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune on ED pills. It is not surprising that pharmaceutical companies are now trying to convince all middle aged men to ask their doctors for prescription testosterone supplements.
The problem is that prescription testosterone doesn’t just increase a man’s T level: it may also increase his risk of stroke, heart attack, and death. It can add huge numbers of red blood cells to the bloodstream and shrink one’s testes. In some men, it increases aggression and irritability. Children who accidentally come in contact with the hormone can develop unwanted pubic hair and genital changes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “is currently investigating the risk of stroke, heart attack and death in men taking FDA-approved testosterone products,” according to an FDA statement released Friday. “We have been monitoring this risk and decided to reassess this safety issue based on the recent publication of two separate studies that each suggested an increased risk of cardiovascular events among groups of men prescribed testosterone therapy.”
In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE researchers found that, within three months, taking the hormone doubled the rate of heart attacks in men 65 and older, as well as in younger men who had heart disease.
The number of testosterone prescriptions given to American men has tripled since 2001. Used clinically since 1937 and approved by the F.D.A. since 1953, testosterone is now administered in at least five forms, including patches, gels and injections. Three million prescriptions were written in 2012 for the market leader AndroGel alone. Sales of all testosterone-boosting drugs are estimated to have been $2 billion in 2012, and are projected to hit $5 billion by 2017.
According to a New York Times article, “Don’t Ask Your Doctor About ‘Low T,‘” “[t]oo many doctors are now writing testosterone prescriptions without even measuring the patient’s hormone levels, much less re-testing for confirmation and adjusting the dose after prescription. Up to a quarter of these prescriptions are dispensed without a blood test.”
In addition to the risk of cardiovascular events, low T supplements can destroy a man’s ability to produce natural testosterone. Prescription T can mean a permanent shut-off in men’s own testosterone production. Thus, once a man starts low T treatment, he may have to stay on it for life.