Do Men Need to Boost Their Testosterone?

Health Writer

It's hard to watch television without seeing commercials about "Low T." As these ads drive men to the doctor to combat fatigue, loss of sexual desire and a host of other problems, some experts are concerned that testosterone treatment may cause more problems than it solves.

What is Low Testosterone?

From the age of 30 and up, men lose about one percent of their testosterone each year. Their levels continue to decrease throughout their lives.   While there are some standards as to what normal levels are, there are some problems with diagnosis:

  • Normal testosterone levels could be anywhere from 250 to 1,100 nanograms per deciliter. Under 200 is considered low but it is unclear as to levels between 200 and 300 should be treated.
  • Blood tests are unreliable with lab results being unpredictable. Men's testosterone levels are highest in the morning but can fluctuate throughout the day making the time of the blood test a factor in the results.
  • Most men with low testosterone don't have many adverse symptoms. Some may have a decreased sexual drive, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle and bone or fatigue. But these symptoms may be caused by other health problems as well.
  • While diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure are associated with low testosterone, it isn't clear which diagnosis is the cause and which one is the effect

While the ads on television would lead you to believe that this is a common problem, a study published   in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that only about three percent of men in their sixties and five percent of men in their seventies have low testosterone. [1]

Concerns about Treatment

Many experts believe that low testosterone doesn't need to be treated. "Most experts say testosterone is about as effective as anti-wrinkle face cream when used to reverse the effects of aging." [2] In addition, there are some potential side effects and problems with treatment:

  • The FDA has issued strong warnings against two testosterone gels after children were exposed and experienced enlargement of genitalia or aggressive behavior
  • Some experts believe treatment puts men at a higher risk for prostate cancer or can worsen cancer if it is already present
  • It may increase the risk of stroke because it increases red blood cell production
  • Treatment has been linked to heart disease, liver damage, sleep apnea, breast growth, prostate enlargement [2]

While studies on the side effects are not definitive or show inconsistencies in the different studies, there are major concerns on the long-term effect of testosterone therapy. Staying healthy, losing weight or eating a healthy diet, exercise and getting enough sleep are all natural ways of boosting testosterone and much safer.

There are some men who, because of illness or other factors, may benefit from testosterone therapy. It is best to discuss your concerns with your doctor.


[1] "The Lowdown on Low Testosterone," 2011, May 1, Staff Writer, Berkeley Wellness

[2] "The Reality of 'Low T'" 2012, March 1, Julie Deardorff, The Chicago Tribune