Quick Study: Testosterone supplement may have cardiovascular risks for older men
For older men, supplementation may have cardiovascular risks
THE QUESTION Testosterone supplementation has been shown to build muscle and strength in older men, who often experience a drop in this male hormone. But does it do the same if the men are not fully healthy?
THIS STUDY involved 209 men, who averaged 74 years old and had low testosterone levels and mobility problems. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high levels of blood fats and heart disease were also common in the group. They were randomly assigned to apply a testosterone gel (Testim) or a placebo gel daily. After six months, those using testosterone recorded greater improvements in lower-extremity strength and physical functioning. However, twice as many men in the testosterone group were evaluated for a medical problem. This included 23 men who had a cardiovascular problem (including high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and a need for stenting), compared with five men in the placebo group, and seven (vs. one) who had an atherosclerosis-related problem (including heart attack, angioplasty and coronary artery bypass).
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older men. Testosterone, which the body produces naturally, is key to the growth and functioning of male sexual organs and for the development of male characteristics. A decline in testosterone level that often accompanies aging can lead to low energy and loss of sexual desire as well as a loss of muscle mass. Supplementation is sometimes used to replace what the body no longer produces.
CAVEATS The study was stopped early because of the high incidence of cardiovascular problems among men using the testosterone gel. The study authors noted that, because of the relatively small number of problems, "the differences detected between the two trial groups may have been due to chance alone." The gels used in the study were provided by Auxilium Pharmaceuticals; one of the study's 26 authors received fees from the company.
FIND THIS STUDY July 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.