One of the driving hormones in a man is testosterone. It also is known that with age testosterone levels fall. The lesser known fact is the importance of monitoring testosterone levels in aging males, so they have the choice of intervening with the aging process. Here are the facts about testosterone, about replacement of testosterone and about the anxieties of the medical profession to deal with this.
Androgen receptors contained in key tissues
Androgen receptors are situated in the key organs like the brain, heart, muscles, bones, kidneys, fat cells, genitals, hair follicles and skin. They respond to all male hormones, called androgens, like testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and DHEA. DHT is produced by metabolizing testosterone with the help of an enzyme, called 5α-reductase in the adrenal glands. This is responsible for hair loss in males and some females. There is a genetic factor for this. It is important that the man continues to have all tissues stimulated by testosterone when he ages or the key organs mentioned are going to suffer.
A lack of testosterone as the man ages (around 55 to 65) leads to a slowdown in thinking, osteoporosis in the bones, muscle atrophy (melting in of muscle tissue), and a lack of sex drive. Mood swings can turn the male into the “grumpy old man”. The skin gets thinned and is more brittle.
Animal experiments have shown that the development of fatty streaks in blood vessels happens at a higher rate in castrated animals. The more encouraging finding in these animals is the fact that this condition is reversible by replacement of testosterone. In healthy males of a younger age all organs are working well. The problems starts when males age and the hormone regulation in the brain slows down, which ultimately leads to andropause in males, the equivalent of menopause in women. When testosterone is replaced in an aging man with low testosterone levels, the androgen receptors in key organs mentioned above are stimulated and normal organ function returns.
Reluctance of physicians to prescribe testosterone
It used to be taught to medical students that testosterone would be the cause for prostate cancer. This was based on old observations by Dr. Huggins, a Canadian born surgeon who practiced in Chicago, that orchiectomy improved the survival of advanced prostate cancer patients by a small percentage. Dr. Lee pointed out that Dr. Huggins neglected to realize that testicles make both testosterone and small amounts of estrogen.
When an orchiectomy was done (because of the belief that testosterone production was the culprit) inadvertently the real cause of prostate cancer (an estrogen surplus) was also removed thus improving the survival of these patients somewhat. Nowadays we have more sophisticated testing methods. Dr. Abraham Morgentaler (Ref. 1) has compiled a lot of evidence about the importance of testosterone in men. He proved, based on a lot more modern references that it is not testosterone that is the cause of prostate cancer. We know now that estrogen dominance is responsible for prostate cancer and that this develops as stated above because of the low testosterone and low progesterone during the male menopause (also called “andropause”). Dr. Morgentaler, a urologist from Harvard University has taken prostate cancer patients and put them on testosterone. To his and everyone else’s surprise testosterone treated prostate cancer patients improved, their prostate cancer either disappeared or become much less aggressive, which can be measured with the Gleason score based on its microscopic appearance. The result was that they did better, not worse on testosterone.
Unfortunately the history of testosterone, orchiectomy and prostate cancer as explained led to confusion among the medical profession. We now know that testosterone is innocent with respect to prostate cancer, testicular cancer or any other cancer. But some of the old-timers among the physicians doggedly hold on to their false belief from the past because they were taught this way. If a man asks one of these physicians for testosterone replacement he may not only be told that he/she could not do that, but will also receive a tirade of false statements about testosterone.
We dealt with the myth of prostate cancer that is not related to testosterone treatment. There is another myth that older physicians often cite: that testosterone would supposedly be causing blood clots. At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Texas, USA) a large study was done involving 30,572 men, ages 40 years and older. They all had venous thromboembolism and received an anticoagulant drug or an intravascular vena cava filter following their diagnosis. They also had a low testosterone level and were given testosterone replacement therapy. They were followed and monitored for further venous thromboembolism. None were found in any of the men. The conclusion of the investigators was that filling a testosterone prescription was not associated with any clotting condition.
Aging and testosterone
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study showed that testosterone has been declining in the male population over a period of 20 years. Partially this was related to aging, but otherwise there may also be environmental factors, called estrogen-like substances or xenoestrogens, that have contributed to it as well. Although age is a factor, there is so much variation from man to man, that it is best to just measure testosterone and determine whether the total testosterone level is above or below 500 ng/dL. This seems to be the most reliable indicator in determining whether a man needs hormone replacement, apart from symptoms due to testosterone loss. These are: increased risks for prostate problems and/or cancer, cardiovascular disease, loss of bone density, a rise in cholesterol and urinary dysfunction. Dr. Randolph describes this in detail and also discusses who needs bioidentical testosterone replacement.
A New England Journal of Medicine study from September 2013 explained that apart from testosterone the male body needs a small amount of estradiol, the female hormone for normal functioning. This is achieved through the enzyme aromatase contained in fatty tissue. But testosterone replacement must be given as the bioidentical testosterone, so that a small amount of it can be converted by aromatase into estradiol. I have reviewed this in a blog entitled “The Full Story About Testosterone”.
Risk of prostate cancer
Having reviewed the hard facts about prostate cancer risk, it is now clear that older men get prostate cancer because of lowered testosterone in their blood and increased body weight, where fat converts androgens by the aromatase into estradiol; this leads to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance causes breast cancer and uterine cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. When the total testosterone level in a man is lower than 500 ng/dL it is a sign that he needs testosterone replacement therapy to protect his prostate from prostate cancer.
As the cardiovascular system has a lot of androgen receptors on its cell surfaces, it is important that the man continues to have the proper stimulus from androgenic hormones (testosterone, dihydrotestosterone and DHEA) for proper contractility of heart cells and relaxation of smooth muscle cells in the arteries to control blood pressure. With a lack of testosterone there is hardening of the arteries, loss of muscle cells in the heart muscle and increase of blood pressure. So far there is only an indication that low testosterone is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks. It has not been proven that it is the cause (so webmd.com says). But careful replacement with bioidentical testosterone helps patients to get rid of their symptoms, have the energy to exercise and feel better. Long-term studies have already shown that hormone replacement saves lives, but the medical profession is slow to accept this (Ref.1). Here is a link that explains this a bit further.
If a man who is low in testosterone wonders whether it would be worthwhile to go on testosterone therapy, here is the clear answer: would you like to have a 47% lowered risk of dying, a reduction of 18% in heart attacks and 30% reduction in the risk for a stroke? This is what a 14-year follow-up study published in the European Heart Journal in August, 2015 found.
The same is true for cardiovascular disease as stated above: if the total testosterone level in a man is lower than 500 ng/dL it is a sign that he needs testosterone replacement therapy to protect his cardiovascular system to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Loss of bone density
Older men can get osteoporosis, which can lead to compression fractures in the spine and to fractures in the hip, the ankle or wrist. It is thought that with the lack of testosterone there is also a lack of estradiol via the aromatase pathway in fatty tissue. This small amount of estradiol is thought to prevent osteoporosis all his life until the testosterone drops with older age. Once again it is important to monitor his total testosterone level and replace with bioidentical testosterone when it is lower than 500 ng/dL.
Rise in cholesterol
With obesity the metabolic syndrome sets in where the LDL cholesterol is increased. This is a direct risk for hardening of the arteries. In an obese older man with low testosterone there is a double risk from the low testosterone and the metabolic syndrome. As a result the heart attack and stroke rates in obese men with low testosterone are much higher than in obese men with normal testosterone levels. Men with obesity need to lose weight by changing their diet to healthier eating habits and starting a regular exercise program with swimming and walking. At the same time those with a testosterone level of lower than 500 ng/dL should have testosterone replacement with bioidentical testosterone.
A hyperactive bladder, dribbling, hesitancy and leaking bladder can all be part of testosterone deficiency. But this is not that easy to diagnose. A full consultation by an urologist may be necessary to assess various other causes that could hide behind these symptoms. Part of the work-up though is to measure the total testosterone level and replace with bioidentical testosterone when it is lower than 500 ng/dL
Alzheimer’s disease can be due to a lack of testosterone. It is therefore important to measure the total testosterone level in a man. If it is lower than 500 ng/dL, as mentioned before , it is a sign that he needs testosterone replacement therapy to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. Thierry Hertoghe, an endocrinologist from Belgium, there are several hormones that can be missing in a person with burnout: a lack of cortisol, thyroid, growth hormone, testosterone/estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin. The middle-aged manager with burnout would have other hormones missing apart from testosterone. This needs to be measured with blood tests. Whatever is low would have to be replaced with bioidentical hormones.
Some details regarding testosterone measurements and delivery
The deeper you delve into testosterone replacement, the more details there are to consider.
First, there is a sex hormone-binding globulin that is mostly produced by the liver and circulating in the blood.
It is like a storage form of testosterone and only 1 to 2% of the total testosterone is unbound. This is called the free or bioavailable testosterone. Some physicians measure just that portion of testosterone.
Second, when it comes to replacement of testosterone in a man who is deficient for testosterone, there are several delivery systems, which some people find a little confusing. There are testosterone gels, which are least absorbed; another application are creams which are often prepared by compounding pharmacies. These creams are usually well absorbed. But some men do not absorb either creams or gels. They need testosterone injections or testosterone pellets. The goal is to replace testosterone in a manner that there is a fairly equal amount of testosterone available at all times. Some men achieve that only with testosterone pellets, others with testosterone cypionate injections. For this reason blood test that determine the levels of free testosterone are necessary.
Testosterone is a key hormone in the male and needs to be monitored, particularly when he is aging. A careful history of his symptoms needs to be taken by a knowledgeable physician or naturopath. If blood tests show that the total testosterone is less than 500 ng/dL replacement with bioidentical testosterone is needed.
Ref.1: Dr. Abraham Morgentaler: “Testosterone for Life – recharge your vitality, sex drive, and overall health” McGraw-Hill, 2009