A landmark study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine offers fresh insight into the benefits of testosterone therapy for men 65 and older. The study, which is one among seven being conducted by the National Institute on Aging to assess the efficacy and safety of testosterone therapy in men, examined the benefits of testosterone gel on nearly 800 older men with low testosterone levels.
Men in the study group were treated with testosterone to bring serum levels to the mid-normal range of men between the ages of 19 and 40. All subjects were required to apply the gel daily on the skin for one year, participate in walking tests, and answer questionnaires about their daily experiences pertaining to sexual function, physical function, and/or vitality.
At the conclusion of the study, increases in testosterone yielded the greatest improvements in sexual activity as well as desire for sex and erectile function. The men on testosterone also saw improvements in physical function, as assessed by a six-minute walking test, and mood—with reports of a reduction in the severity of symptoms of depression.
Although there was nominal benefit shown in the category of vitality, many men who learned they were in the group on testosterone therapy chose to continue use at the close of the experiment. One 71-year-old participant told the Associated Press that he believed his low mood and energy levels were better on the testosterone treatment. He has resumed use of testosterone therapy under his doctor’s supervision.
Though this study did not assess the safety of testosterone therapy, previous studies, like the very large, long-term Veteran Affairs database study that concluded late in 2015, show restoring testosterone levels to normal in men with low testosterone reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Adequate testosterone levels also reduce co-factors associated with chronic diseases, like diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Testosterone therapy—or any form or hormone therapy—is best administered under the care of a physician that specializes in hormone therapy. He or she must be specially trained and certified in assessing hormone health and diagnosing related conditions. Men who are suffering from low testosterone or symptoms such as low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or moodiness should seek a practitioner that carefully assesses his needs and goals through advanced diagnostic lab testing and careful review of symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle factors before beginning treatment.