Testosterone gel trials reveal mixed results of benefits and drawbacks
A large study looking into the potential positive or negative effects of supplementing older men with testosterone gel revealed definitive impact on health, but was largely inconclusive in determining whether it should be a recommended treatment. Particularly, the study found that men benefited from an increase in bone density, increased sexual desire and reduced chance of anaemia while the downsides were no impact upon memory or cognition and build-up of soft deposits in the blood vessels of the heart.
The study involved 788 men, over the age of 65, who had been identified as having low testosterone levels. The men were treated with either testosterone gel, a brand called AndroGel, which contains 1.62% testosterone, or a placebo gel. The studies took place over a period of three, six, nine months and one year – with a year of follow up in some of the studies.
The trail aimed to test some of the broader health claims made in the commercial use of testosterone gel – a highly lucrative industry in the US, with $2.4 billion generated in sales during 2013. One claim, of improvement in cognition and memory, was refuted by this particular study – finding that, in 500 men tested, there was no difference in age-related decline.
Another potentially more serious issue was the slow build-up of plaque within the heart’s arteries, usually associated with higher risk of heart disease, and narrower arteries; both of which usually contribute, or are associated with, higher risk of heart attacks. However, in the study, both those being treated with testosterone gel or on the placebo were found to have similar incidence of heart-related incidents.
Beyond this, 200 men in the study were given bone imaging tests before and at the end of treatment, finding that those taking testosterone had a higher bone density and strength. Anaemia had also been eradicated in 60% on the testosterone gel.
The mixed findings of this large study does not significantly help to determine whether men should be treated with testosterone as widely as is currently happening in the US. The study noted that dietary habits could have similar effects in those who were obese or overweight.
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