In light of baseball player Alex Rodriguez as Major League Baseball's latest doping scandal and his investigation over performance-enhancing drugs including testosterone, and television flooded with "Low T" ads for men touted for low libido, energy and strength, what should men think about male HRT?
The Miami New Times said Tuesday that the three-time AL MVP bought human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing substances like testosterone during 2009-12 from Biogenesis of America LLC, a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., near Rodriguez's offseason home. This trend in all sports is drawing censure and criticism for all athletes.
Yet in everyday life, men adding testosterone artificially to their systems by pill, patch or gel is becoming much more commonplace.
Published in 2011, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study shows that testosterone production drops as males are forced to shift priorities, duties and mindset when they transition into fatherhood.
The study reveals men are evolutionarily wired to help raise their children and that testosterone may get in the way.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone associated with perceived hallmarks of masculinity such as libido, aggression and musculature. Those can be useful qualities when competing for a mate, but less so when transitioning the hunter quality of men to the nurturer.
Some studies over the last decade had shown that fathers have lower testosterone levels than their childless counterparts.
To answer the question, scientists measured the testosterone levels of 624 Philippine men who were 21 years old. The researchers tracked the men — and their hormones — over the next 4.5 years. During that period, 162 who were single at the start of the study settled down and had kids and 257 remained single and childless.
The data revealed that the men with higher testosterone levels at the start of the study were more likely to become fathers. But these dads saw their testosterone levels plummet by 26% upon waking and by 34% at bedtime over the course of the study. Compare that to the bachelors, who saw modest age-related declines of 12% and 14%.
For fathers, the initial drop was abrupt: Men with newborns saw T-levels dive by 43% in the morning and 49% in the evening during the baby's first month of life. As their infants grew, their hormone levels recovered — men with babies between the ages of 1 and 12 months took a testosterone hit of only 23% in the morning and 35% in the evening.
The Los Angeles Times reported that overall, men who devoted the most time to child care had the lowest testosterone levels, according to the study, which was published by the National Academy of Sciences.
"There's something about being an active father that's contributing to these dramatic declines," said study leader Lee Gettler, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Dr. Damon Raskin, M.D. —a board-certified internist in Los Angeles who is both an addiction expert and a men’s health specialist — spoke to Monsters and Critics about testosterone.
Dr. Raskin is the supervising medical director for a nationwide facility dealing with men’s health and anti-aging issues. He has worked with scores of patients with long-term steroid usage. He also is an attending physician at Cliffside Malibu, a leading addiction residential treatment center in Los Angeles.
"There is a tremendous difference between patients who suffer from low testosterone with symptoms such as fatigue, depression, low libido and low erectile dysfunction and the athlete who is trying to improve performance. Hypogonadism or low testosterone can be a serious medical condition with very real consequences such as low bone mass and increased risk for fractures," explained Dr. Raskin.
"On the other hand, giving excessive amounts to men who don't need it could lead to serious health risks such as liver disease, prostate disease, and aggressive behaviors. Human growth hormone (HGH) is not approved for use in the aging male, and there are serious potential risks to its use including development of diabetes and growths of cancerous tumors," warned Dr. Raskin.
"The misuse of these drugs should not deter patients from checking their hormone levels if they indeed have symptoms. Under medical supervision, testosterone replacement can be safe and extremely helpful for those suffering from the condition."