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Taking testosterone may not improve men’s sexual function or quality of life.

Recent Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) research has found that testosterone use among men doesn’t appear to increase their risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a condition that can lead to severe cardiovascular diseases. The same study, however, also found that these same men failed to realize the quality of life benefits that are often the primary goals of testosterone therapy.

Testosterone, a hormone primarily secreted by the testicles, plays a key role not only in male reproductive tissues, but also in muscle growth, bone mass, and metabolism. As men get older, their testosterone levels naturally decline – an average of one percent a year after age 40. In an attempt to counter this natural decline, an increasing number of men over the past decade have turned to testosterone therapy.

Although previous studies aimed at examining rates of adverse cardiovascular events in men taking testosterone have produced conflicting results, concerns remain that testosterone therapy might increase a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke. BWH investigators developed the Testosterone’s Effects on Atherosclerosis Progression in Aging Men (TEAAM) trial to explore whether there is link between testosterone use and atherosclerosis, a critical risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The three-year study found that administering testosterone to older men (over 60) with low to low normal testosterone levels had no effect on the progression of hardening of the arteries, but also did not significantly improve sexual function or health-related quality of life.

Despite failing to find a link between testosterone use and atherosclerosis, the research team believes that patients should be wary of a therapy whose benefits and risks have yet to be thoroughly explored.

“Our study has important implications for clinical practice, and for older men who are seeking testosterone therapy,” says study author Dr. Shalender Bhasin, Director of the BWH Research Program in Men’s Health: Aging and Metabolism and Director of the Boston Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at BWH. “Many men, as they get older, experience a decline in testosterone and in sexual function and vitality. But our study finds that taking testosterone, when levels are in the low to low normal range, may not improve sexual function or quality of life. And although we find that testosterone did not affect the rate of hardening of the arteries, we need long-term data from large trials to determine testosterone’s effects on other major cardiovascular events.”

Chris P., Haley B.

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