Not to sound like an advertisement, but men, there IS a hormone you can take to live healthier with less risk of disease and with improved vitality, libido and energy. That hormone is testosterone.
We are not talking steroids or the doses that body builders use to enhance their sports performance. In fact, taking very large doses of testosterone and/or steroids can increase one’s risk of disease and health complications. Many still believe that testosterone replacement therapy can increase one’s risk of developing prostate cancer. With Harvard University leading the pack, there have been multitudes of studies that have definitively proven this to be false. In fact, testosterone can be life-saving and life-enhancing and is promoted by most leading institutions of health.
Here are some facts you should know: 1) A study followed men over the age of 40 for five years and found that men with low testosterone levels were 88% more likely to die; and 2) Another study demonstrated that there was a reduction of death for all causes in men whose testosterone levels were normal, regardless if that happened naturally or supplemented. The running joke at our clinic is that while drinking coffee may reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer, testosterone can do this AND improve your libido – and a slew of other benefits!
What are those “other benefits”? Maintaining testosterone levels in a normal range can reduce risk one’s risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and can lower cholesterol levels. A normal testosterone level also improves blood sugar which can prevent the development of diabetes or metabolic syndrome or help control it. In addition to improving libido and sexual function, normal testosterone levels can further enhance vitality by decreasing depression, increasing muscle mass and strength and reducing fat on the body.
We always recommend testosterone testing. The test to request from your health care provider is a blood “free” testosterone level and should be done while fasting. This is the active form of testosterone. Unfortunately, many unwittingly order a total testosterone, which is the inactive form of testosterone and can be normal while one’s actual active “free” testosterone levels are quite low. Also, make sure that the lab breaks down normal levels per decade of age as normal levels decrease with age – an eighty-two-year-old should have a different “normal” level than a twenty-eight-year-old.
In addition, we prefer a panel that also measures DHT (a testosterone metabolite) levels and estrogen levels. Testosterone can break down into these two substances. If DHT is high, this can increase one’s risk of developing benign prostate enlargement. Saw Palmetto, a popular herb men take to treat enlarged prostate symptoms, prevents the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Elevated estrogen levels can cause breasts to grow, decrease libido, and has been associated with prostate and lung cancer. Elevated estrogen levels can also increase blood sugar and make one more susceptible to diabetes.
We also like to measure 3-beta- and 3-alpha-Adiol levels. Just like women make healthier and protective estrogen metabolites and unhealthier estrogen metabolites, men produce healthy and unhealthy testosterone metabolites that can decrease or increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. As there are things one can do to make these levels the healthiest they can be, we prefer the holistic approach to testing and maximizing prostate health.
Are there risks associated with testosterone replacement therapy? Too little testosterone increases one’s risks of disease and cancer and too much testosterone can too. Risks can be minimized or eliminated by a few simple steps. First, insist on the comprehensive testosterone metabolite test and estrogen level discussed above – this may mean seeking help from someone else more knowledgeable than your family provider. Second, avoid pill-form or injectable form testosterone. When taken orally, the testosterone will go to the liver first and can cause cholesterol levels to increase instead of decrease. When injected, the testosterone levels are high for the days after the injection and low in the week(s) before the next injection, instead of a constant normal. The preferred route is topical/cream application.
Checking testosterone levels periodically will help avoid the complications of too much testosterone. An ideal goal is to be 70-80% “normal range” for your age. Higher than normal levels of testosterone can cause elevated blood counts, liver inflammation, decreased sperm count, high cholesterol, and an increased risk of heart disease. Blood counts, liver enzyme tests, thyroid test, cholesterol levels, and a PSA should be done occasionally.
Again, testosterone can literally save lives, and can definitely improve health and vitality for men. But, like any drug or hormone, safety should be monitored by a knowledgeable provider to eliminate unnecessary risks. Wishing all the men out there health and vitality!
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, anti-aging, women’s health and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.