“Is low-T making you feel like a shadow of your former self?” Chances are you’ve seen that pitch, featured in slick TV or magazine ads that warn about the risks of low testosterone, or “low T.”
In 2012 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent more than $100 million fanning fears—and promoting gels, patches, and other testosterone replacement products.
The trouble is, low testosterone isn’t a bona fide medical condition. And the “symptoms” associated with it—flagging energy, declining sex drive, memory lapses—are part of normal aging.
But that hasn’t stopped some doctors from endorsing the idea of low testosterone and profiting by setting up clinics to treat this “disorder.“
The power of advertising
What’s more, direct-to-consumer ads fueled an unprecedented explosion in testosterone sales even though there was scant evidence that the ”cure,” testosterone replacement, was safe or effective.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2017 looked at 75 major regions in the United States where ads were broadcast and found that the more often men were exposed to advertising, the more likely they were to get their testosterone tested and begin taking the hormone.
That alone wouldn’t be cause for worry if men actually had low testosterone. But the researchers found that, of the more than 17 million men in the regions they studied, nearly 138,000 started therapy without having their blood tested for low testosterone—even though that’s contrary to current medical guidelines. In other words, many of those men using testosterone probably didn’t even have low levels.
The bottom line
A clever bumper sticker suggests: “Ask your doctor if medical advice from a television commercial is right for you.”
The American Medical Association recently answered that question decisively, calling for an end to direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs. We agree.
Peter Jaret is the author of several health-related books, including “In Self-Defense: The Human Immune System” (Harcourt Brace), “Nurse: A World of Care” (Emory University Press), and “Impact: On the Frontlines of Public Health” (National Geographic). A frequent contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Health, More, AARP Bulletin, and dozens of other periodicals, Jaret is the recipient of an American Medical Association award for journalism and two James Beard awards. He lives in Petaluma, Calif.