Testosterone, Hormone Of Energy And Desire
by Elora Gabriel
Testosterone is probably the most misunderstood of all the major sex hormones. Let’s clear up some of the misconceptions and bad press around this very beneficial hormone.
Misconception #1. Testosterone is only for men. True, it is the predominant sex hormone for men. Yet women’s ovaries produce small amounts of testosterone as well. Therefore, as we enter menopause, we may find that we are suffering not only from a lack of estrogen and progesterone, but from low testosterone as well. The most tell-tale symptom of testosterone deficiency is a loss of libido, since testosterone is responsible for sex drive in both men and women. Muscle tone may also become flabby despite exercise. Think of a teen-age boy with his strong muscles and intense sex drive. While women don’t need to run the same amount of this high-octane hormone through their bodies, many of us could certainly benefit from a judicious amount of testosterone.
An article in Omni Magazine subtitled "A Hormone Called Desire" summarized a ten year study at McGill University on women with lowered levels of sex hormones. The authors concluded that "the male hormone definitely helps rekindle youthful sexual fires in postmenopausal women. . . The women receiving testosterone--either alone or with estrogen--had more sexual desire, more sexual fantasies, and higher levels of sexual arousal than the women receiving no male hormone at all. The women on testosterone also had higher rates of intercourse and orgasm." One of the researchers commented: "Testosterone in women seems to have its greatest effect on the libido. It also gives women higher energy levels and increases their sense of well-being."
Here is another surprise. We know that progesterone helps protect women against breast cancer. But testosterone also has a powerfully protective effect. Dr. William Douglas, editor of Second Opinion Newsletter, relates the following information. C. W. Lovell, MD, of the Baton Rouge Menopause Clinic, performed extensive clinical testing on the effects of estrogen therapy combined with testosterone. According to Dr. Douglas:
"In the treatment of 4,000 patients, in which [Dr. Lovell] used a combination of estrogen (estradiol) and testosterone, he has reduced the incidence of breast cancer to less than half the national average. Using another statistic, his results are even more impressive. On average, there is one cancer discovered for every 100 mammograms performed. In those patients on testosterone therapy, there is only one cancer in every 1,000 mammograms--a decrease of 90 percent!" (emphasis added)
Another factor for women to consider is that testosterone, being a bone-building hormone, has positive implications for osteoporosis prevention.
Misconception #2. Testosterone is dangerous--it can cause cancer, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and virilism (masculinization) for women. Indeed, overuse of any hormone will cause side effects. For example, too much estrogen is not only miserable but risky. Because it builds muscle and enhances athletic performance, testosterone has been more over-used than all of the other hormones put together. If your levels are below normal, and you decide to use pure testosterone, do so under the care of an informed holistic physician, and stick to a moderate dosage. Barring certain conditions, this should not only be safe but beneficial. You can test your testosterone levels with a saliva hormone assay (contact Great Smokies Medical Labs, at 1-888-891-3061, under "Body Balance" in their voice-mail menu.
The worst press around testosterone has been the accusation that it causes heart attacks. However, research shows that the exact opposite is true. Men who have heart attacks, in fact, generally have low testosterone levels. Professor Gerald B. Phillips, MD, of Columbia University Medical School, studied 55 men with chest pain or other signs of heart disease. X-rays of their coronary arteries showed that the men with a lower testosterone levels were much more likely to have significantly clogged arteries than the men with high levels of testosterone. The researchers concluded that low testosterone "may be a risk factor for coronary atherosclerosis."
According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, well-known editor of Health and Healing newsletter:
"Several studies document the relationship between low testosterone levels and elevated triglycerides (a type of fat) and LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that contributes to atherosclerosis), and high testosterone levels and increased HDL cholesterol (a protective factor in heart disease). Japanese research is focusing on testosterone’s stroke-preventing properties, and a British study noted its positive effect on irregular heartbeat. A 1993 Swedish study established a relationship between low testosterone levels and diabetes risk, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which was reversed when men were supplemented with testosterone."
It is commonly believed that testosterone causes prostate cancer. According to both Dr. Whitaker and Dr. Ronald Hoffman, however, it appears that testosterone does not cause prostate cancer to develop in healthy men, although it might stimulate cancer growth if used once a tumor is well established. Whitaker does not recommend testosterone for men with prostate cancer or a history of that disease. And he recommends that men who decide to use testosterone have annual PSA tests to monitor for prostate cancer. (Testosterone supplementation will cause PSA levels to rise slightly, which is simply an indication of normal prostate stimulation, not a precancerous condition.) Dr. john Lee states that "the jury is still out" regarding the connection between prostate cancer and testosterone levels.
Another factor to consider regarding the safety of testosterone is the fact that most testosterone that is prescribed is synthetic methyl testosterone. It’s like the difference between Premarin, a horse estrogen, and a natural, plant-derived, "human-identical" hormone like tri-estrogen. If you want to use prescription testosterone, stick to what is called simply "natural testosterone". Dr. Douglas says that "It is very well documented that methyl testosterone is harmful to the liver. Doctors in Europe won’t touch the stuff."
Misconception #3. Men do not need any type of hormone replacement. While it’s true that some men do fine without any hormonal supplementation, others definitely pass through "andropause" or a lessening in the production of male hormones. Because andropause happens much more gradually then menopause, it receives less attention than do female hormonal problems. Dr. Richard S. Wilkinson related the following case. One of his patients, a brilliant physicist, went into an all-round physical decline at age 49. He suffered from allergies and a ruptured disk in his back. At age 55, he developed a severe heart irregularity, in addition to other problems. Many thousands of dollars in medical tests and doctor’s fees later, he had gained only the information that "you are aging faster than normal." Finally the physicist went to a holistically oriented endocrinologist, who determined that his patient was deficient in thyroid hormone and testosterone. Hormone treatment resulted in a virtual rejuvenation for this man. How many other men, however, simply give up and accept that their symptoms are simply the result of growing older?
In a study by leading researcher Dr. Joyce Tenover, 13 healthy men between the ages of 57 to 76 were given testosterone for three months. At the end of the test period, the men had lower cholesterol, increased lean muscle mass, and a decline in bone loss. According to Dr. Tenover, 12 of the 13 men also stated that they "knew" they were receiving testosterone, because of an increase in libido, a positive sense of aggressiveness in business dealings, and an improvement in energy levels and sense of well being.
Dr. Douglas points out that impotence due to low testosterone levels is "a definite alarm bell in males. When you become impotent, you can count on dying about 20 years later." Testosterone, he points out, is not just about sex. It is "a metabolic powerhouse of amazing versatility. It is one of the major regulators of sugar, fat, and protein metabolism." In other words, particularly for men, it is one of the most important keys to good health and long life.
Testosterone, being a bone-building hormone, also protects men from osteoporosis. The protective effect of this hormone upon bone density is the major reason that men suffer much less from osteoporosis than do women.
Misconception #4. Vasectomies are completely safe, and do not affect testosterone levels. Dr. Douglas tells the story of Ben, a merchant banker, who found himself becoming steadily more impotent as time passed. He found that he could only achieve an erection four times in every ten tries, and when he succeeded, he lost the erection after penetration. If he managed to get beyond that hurdle, he would fail to ejaculate. Douglas writes: "Ben was shocked when it was suggested that his vasectomy, done over a decade ago, might be the cause of his impotence. His testosterone level was 158 whereas the average for his age is 700 or better." After four months on testosterone, Ben was back to 100% erections with complete staying power.
Dr. Richard Petty, head of a men’s clinic in London, reported on a study of 445 men who complained of impotence. Petty found that there was a "marked reduction" in testosterone levels when the vasectomy had been performed more than ten years ago. For some reason, testosterone levels tend to rise after a vasectomy, but drop later on.
How to get testosterone, and what to use. If you wish to use "the real thing", then you will need a prescription from you doctor. Dr. Whitaker prefers injections. Other methods include sublingual tablets, transdermal patches, and gels. The author’s preference, at least where women are concerned, is the 2% natural testosterone gel. It can be obtained from Clark’s Pharmacy (1-800-480-3432), Snyder Mark Drugs (1-800-776-4378) or any pharmacy specializing in natural hormones. The 2% gel is quite strong, and women need only a very small amount, once daily. Unfortunately, the gel oxidizes over time, and the latter part of the container may need to be discarded. Still, it is generally more effective than oral testosterone.
Obtaining testosterone benefits without a prescription has become easier since the advent of androstenedione. "Andro" is an over-the-counter product which is a direct precursor to testosterone. In other words, it converts directly to testosterone in the body. While oral capsules sometimes produced disappointing results, several companies have now produced androstenedione creams and gels which are very effective. Please click here to view our androstenedione products. According to some sources, androstenedione creams and gels do not cause some of the problems normally associated with testosterone use, such as increased facial hair.
[Note: some health food stores are no longer carrying Andro. This is due, once again, to the fact that many athletes have been using many times the recommended dosage. To the author’s knowledge, no serious side effects have been experienced by people using a moderate dosage.]
DHEA also converts to testosterone on the hormonal cascade. Men often experience increased libido, for example, from using DHEA. Women usually need a bit more of a boost. DHEA cream, when used topically inside the vagina, produces a wonderfully high success rate both in increasing libido and in reversing vaginal atrophy and dryness. The vagina has plenty of testosterone receptors, and responds very well to this method of getting the testosterone exactly where it’s needed.
Too much of any hormone will cause side effects. With testosterone, watch for acne, excessive libido, and an increase of facial and/or body hair. With severe and longer term over-use, voice changes could occur. These symptoms should be temporary unless a person has systematically abused testosterone or androstenedione. If you notice any of these effects while using testosterone, stop for several days. Then resume at a lesser dosage.
Saliva hormone assays should be used initially, and then periodically to check testosterone and DHT levels on supplementation. Testing facilities, such as North Bay Diagnostics, have collected enough data from men using both oral and transdermal hormones, so they can accurately determine whether a man has initial low testosterone, then adequate levels with supplementation. These will be found in our Hormone Tests section. Periodic testing is important, at least until your usage pattern is stabilized.
Just as with all the other major hormones, testosterone in its natural form, and at a proper dosage, can be a powerful tool for enhanced health and well-being in the latter half of life.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.