Testosterone Replacement therapy: Potential benefits and risks as you age

How Does Testosterone Replacement Therapy Work?
As you age, TRT might sound promising. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what the treatment can and can’t do for you.
Testosterone Replacement therapy might seem like the ultimate anti-aging formula. Yet the health benefits of testosterone therapy for age-related decline in testosterone aren’t clear.
Find out what’s known — and not known — about testosterone therapy for normal aging.

Page Contents

What is Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)?

TRT is a treatment primarily used for men diagnosed with symptomatic hypogonadism, a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone that plays a crucial role in male physical development and maintenance. It helps in maintaining bone density, fat distribution, muscle strength and mass, red blood cell production, facial and body hair, sex drive, and sperm production​​​​.

Who's the Right Candidate for TRT?

  • Guys with Hypogonadism: A condition where the body doesn’t make enough testosterone. TRT is typically the go-to treatment here.
  • Older Gents Seeing a Natural Dip in T-Levels: It’s normal for testosterone to drop as you age, especially after 45. But, it’s key to know if it’s just aging or something more, like hypogonadism.
  • Men Showing Tell-Tale Low-T Signs: Think less mojo, weaker bones, muscle loss, getting chubbier, and mood swings.
  • Those with Conditions Like Diabetes or Obesity: These can often lead to lower testosterone.
  • Men Noticing Physical and Emotional Shifts: More fat, less muscle, feeling less driven or more down.
  • Folks with Certain Blood Test Findings: Blood tests usually confirm low testosterone levels.
  • Men Dealing with Anemia or Weakening Bones: These can be clues pointing towards needing TRT.
  • Anyone Losing Muscle Strength: Since testosterone is key for muscle upkeep.
Every TRT case is unique and should be looked at holistically, considering your health, symptoms, and history. Always best to chat with a healthcare pro if these symptoms sound familiar.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Low-T

Expanding on the symptoms and diagnosis of low testosterone (Low-T), we can categorize the symptoms into two types: specific and non-specific.

Specific Symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency (TD)

These symptoms are more directly linked to TD:
  • Reduced Sex Drive: A noticeable decrease in sexual desire or libido.
  • Reduced Erectile Function: Difficulty in achieving or maintaining erections.
  • Loss of Body Hair: Unusual thinning or loss of body hair.
  • Less Beard Growth: Decreased facial hair growth.
  • Loss of Lean Muscle Mass: Reduction in muscle strength and bulk.
  • Fatigue: Feeling excessively tired without a clear cause.
  • Obesity: Increased body fat, especially around the waist.
  • Depression Symptoms: Experiencing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a lack of interest in daily activities.

Non-specific Symptoms

These symptoms may or may not be directly linked to TD:
  • Lower Energy Level, Endurance, and Physical Strength: General decrease in overall energy and physical capabilities.
  • Poor Memory: Difficulties with remembering things.
  • Difficulty with Finding Words to Say: Struggling with verbal expression and communication.
  • Poor Focus: Challenges with concentrating on tasks.
  • Work Performance Issues: Not performing as well at work as usual.
It’s important to note that having one or more of these symptoms does not definitively mean one has TD. However, a combination of several symptoms, such as chronic fatigue coupled with reduced sexual desire and depressive feelings, could be indicative of TD and warrants further investigation.

Diagnosis of Low Testosterone

The diagnosis of Low-T involves a comprehensive approach that includes evaluating symptoms, conducting a physical examination, and performing blood tests.

Health History and Physical Examination

  • Health History: The doctor may inquire about headaches, visual field changes, development during puberty, history of head trauma or infection in the testicles, past steroid or opiate use, and family history of diseases linked to Low-T.
  • Physical Examination: This may include assessing BMI or waist circumference for obesity, hair pattern, presence and size of testicles, prostate size, and signs of gynecomastia (enlarged breasts).

Blood Tests and Further Diagnostic Procedures

  • Total Testosterone Level: Essential for confirming Low-T, usually measured multiple times before noon as levels can vary throughout the day.
  • Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Blood Prolactin Level: To identify any pituitary gland problems.
  • Blood Hemoglobin (Hgb): Checked to rule out other causes of low Hgb like high altitude or sleep apnea.
  • Further Tests: May include tests for FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), estradiol hormone, HbA1C (for diabetes), MRI of the pituitary gland, bone density tests, and chromosome tests (karyotype).

It’s also important to differentiate between total testosterone and free or bioavailable testosterone levels, as these tests are not the same and may be used for different diagnostic purposes.

In conclusion, diagnosing Low-T requires a holistic approach that considers a range of physical symptoms, personal health history, and precise blood tests. 

It’s crucial for individuals experiencing a combination of these symptoms to consult with a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and appropriate diagnosis.
What is Erectile Dysfunction in Griffin, GA?

10 Benefits of TRT

  1. Increased Energy Levels: TRT can lead to an increase in overall energy levels. Many patients report feeling less fatigued, sleeping better, and feeling more rested after starting treatment​​.
  2. Improved Mental Acuity and Focus: Testosterone plays a crucial role in cognitive functions, including memory, concentration, and reasoning. Patients on TRT often experience improvements in mental focus and cognition, along with a reduction in symptoms of depression and mood swings​​.
  3. Enhanced Sexual Health and Libido: TRT is known to improve sexual function, including increased libido and better erectile function. This is one of the most common reasons men seek treatment for low testosterone​​.
  4. Better Red Blood Cell Production: TRT can help increase the production of red blood cells, which in turn may alleviate symptoms of fatigue and stabilize blood pressure​​.
  5. Normalized Blood Sugar Levels: TRT has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which can be beneficial for blood glucose management, particularly in diabetic or pre-diabetic conditions​​.
  6. Improved Lipid Metabolism: Treatment with TRT can lead to better lipid metabolism, reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke by correcting high cholesterol levels​​.
  7. Decreased Inflammation: TRT can help regulate chronic inflammation, which is linked to several health conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes​​.
  8. Increased Lean Muscle Mass: Testosterone assists in building lean muscle mass, improving body composition, and enhancing endurance​​.
  9. Slowed Bone Loss: TRT can slow down bone loss, thereby reducing the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis, and improving bone mineral density​​.
  10. Reduced Belly Fat: TRT can lead to a decrease in fat mass, particularly around the midsection, while increasing lean body mass​

Risks and Side Effects

While TRT can offer significant benefits, it’s not without risks. These include acne, breast swelling or soreness, high red blood cell count, swelling of feet or ankles, smaller testicles, infertility, enlarged prostate, and potential exacerbation of sleep apnea, prostate cancer, or heart problems. There’s ongoing research into the long-term effects of TRT, particularly concerning heart disease and prostate cancer risks.

What are the risks of testosterone therapy for normal aging?

Testosterone therapy has various risks, including:
  • Worsening sleep apnea — a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
  • Causing acne or other skin reactions.
  • Stimulating noncancerous growth of the prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and growth of existing prostate cancer.
  • Enlarging breasts.
  • Limiting sperm production or causing testicles to shrink.
  • Stimulating too much red blood cell production, which contributes to the increased risk of forming a blood clot. A clot could break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism).

Who Should Not Take TRT?

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) is an important treatment for certain conditions but is not suitable for everyone. The contraindications for TRT can be classified into absolute and relative categories.
  1. Absolute Contraindications:
    • Breast Cancer: Testosterone can potentially stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.
    • Polycythemia: This is a condition characterized by an elevated hematocrit level (above 54%). Testosterone can further increase red blood cell counts, exacerbating this condition.
    • Prostate Cancer: Testosterone therapy is contraindicated in men with prostate cancer as it can promote the growth of these cancer cells. However, men who have been successfully treated for prostate cancer may be able to take testosterone, but this requires careful discussion with a doctor.
    • Elevated Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA): A PSA level higher than 4 ng per mL or the presence of nodules/induration on digital rectal examination are red flags. Men with these symptoms should be referred to a urologist before considering testosterone therapy.
  2. Relative Contraindications:
    • Baseline Hematocrit > 50%: While not an absolute contraindication, caution is advised due to the potential for increased blood viscosity.
    • Desire for Fertility: Testosterone therapy can suppress spermatogenesis, lowering sperm count and decreasing fertility. Therefore, it is not recommended for men who wish to father children.
    • Severe Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms: These may be exacerbated by testosterone therapy.
    • Uncontrolled Congestive Heart Failure: Testosterone therapy can complicate this condition.
    • Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Testosterone therapy may worsen sleep apnea symptoms.
  3. Other Considerations:
    • Benign Prostate Disease: Testosterone therapy can exacerbate symptoms caused by an enlarged prostate.
    • Polycythemia: Testosterone therapy can worsen polycythemia by stimulating the production of red blood cells, which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
    • Overweight Individuals: For men who are significantly overweight, testosterone therapy is not recommended as a first-line treatment. Losing weight is a more effective solution in such cases.
It’s important to note that the decision to initiate TRT should be made after a thorough evaluation of the individual’s health status, considering the potential risks and benefits. This decision should always be made in consultation with a healthcare professional who can assess the individual’s specific health needs and risks.

Controversies and Misuse

It’s critical to avoid using TRT for non-medical reasons, such as bodybuilding, anti-aging, or performance enhancement. Misuse can lead to dangerous health consequences, and the treatment should only be used under medical supervision​​.

Alternatives and Considerations

For men who do not qualify for TRT or choose not to undergo it, other ways to increase energy levels or address changes in sexual desire and body include lifestyle adjustments like losing weight and increasing muscle mass through exercise.
In conclusion, TRT can be a beneficial treatment for men with clinically low testosterone levels due to hypogonadism.
However, it’s essential to approach this therapy with caution, considering the potential risks and side effects. It should only be undertaken after thorough consultation with a healthcare provider, ensuring that the benefits outweigh the risks for the individual patient.