The Evolving Story of Testosterone

Testosterone is a hormone people often associate with masculinity and libido. However, it is also important for many other functions such as bone growth and bone health. As men age, natural testosterone production tends to decrease, especially after age 30 or so. As a result, many people are interested in testosterone therapy. In fact, testosterone therapy became four times more common from 2001 to 2011. However, there is some evidence that the therapy may actually increase the risk of death in men. These studies have been highlighted by the media, but have been criticized by scientists for their methods and conclusions. So what’s the truth? Can testosterone therapy really prevent health issues such as osteoporosis (bone mass loss) and lowered sex drive, or is it just dangerous? A recent study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, may shed some light on the matter.

What Researchers Found
Researchers studied 306 men over age 60 in a randomized controlled trial. Roughly half of the men received a placebo, and the other half received a testosterone gel daily for three years. The researchers then looked at several key measurements that might indicate increased risk of cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke. They found that although the men who took the actual testosterone gel had an increase in testosterone levels (albeit not statistically significant), there was nearly no difference in thickening or calcium deposits in coronary (heart) arteries—two key changes that would predict a heart attack or stroke. Interestingly, researchers also noted no significant increase in the quality of sex life in subjects using the testosterone gel.

So, What’s the Verdict?
The study concluded that the testosterone therapy did not increase the risk of cardiovascular events (like heart attacks or strokes), but it also didn’t find that other aspects of health, such as overall sexual function, significantly improved. So, at the end of the day, the jury is still out. As with any medical treatment, you should consult your physician to determine whether or not testosterone is right for you—but keep tabs on testosterone trials like this one, and don’t believe those blogs that that say it’s an anti-aging miracle.

(Feature photo courtesy of

Marcel Davidse

Marcel Davidse was an intern with the Healthy Aging Project in the fall of 2016, and graduated in December 2016 from the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.