More and more men are receiving testosterone treatment as they age, leading to more and more questions about the benefits and risks of this practice. One such question might have just gotten an answer.
Does testosterone therapy damage heart health? A new study found no link between testosterone treatment and plaque buildup in the arteries. However, the authors of this study also did not find a link between the treatment and improved quality of life or sexual function.
"There is growing concern that testosterone sales have been growing at a 20 to 25 percent annual rate over the past 10 years. There's also concern whether testosterone therapy increases the risk of heart disease," said lead author Shalender Bhasin, MBBS, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, in an audio interview accompanying this study.
These researchers wanted to study how testosterone treatment might affect the risk for atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque develops inside the arteries. This condition can lead to stroke and heart attack.
Dr. Bhasin and colleagues looked at a group of 308 men aged 60 or older who were gathered from three US health centers. These patients were enrolled in the study between 2004 and 2009 and followed for three years. The men all had testosterone levels that were considered low or low-normal. Forty-two percent of these patients had high blood pressure.
Of the study subjects, 156 received testosterone treatment. The others received a placebo (fake) treatment daily during the three years of follow-up. Over the course of this study, the patients' artery health was monitored — including calcium buildup in the arteries and artery thickness — as was their reported quality of life.
"During this period, testosterone levels were measured to maintain the testosterone levels in men who were assigned to the testosterone group into the middle of the normal-mid range," Dr. Bhasin said.
After analyzing the two groups, Dr. Bhasin and team found that there was no significant difference in atherosclerosis progression between those who received testosterone treatment and those who did not.
These researchers also found that the variety of self-reported, quality-of-life issues measured — including sexual desire levels, erectile function, overall sexual function and health-related quality of life — did not seem to differ significantly between men who received treatment and men who did not.
Dr. Bhasin and colleagues stressed that their study was concerned only with the potential health risk of atherosclerosis and did not concern other heart-health risks. This research did not involve men with low testosterone due to a known disease. Further research is needed to study the safety of testosterone therapy and better understand the treatment's benefits and risks.
Testosterone levels naturally drop as men age, but some men experience an extreme drop that is due to a medical condition.
"A medical condition that leads to an unusual decline in testosterone may be a reason to take supplemental testosterone," according to the Mayo Clinic. "However, treating normal aging with testosterone therapy is not currently advisable."
This study was published online Aug. 11 in JAMA.
Dr. Bhasin disclosed ties to several pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly and Abbvie, and patents pending related to testosterone. A number of groups funded this research, such as Abbvie and the Kronos Longevity Research Institute.