Rethinking testosterone
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Rethinking testosterone

The Food and Drug Administration is taking a hard look at testosterone treatments. Millions of men use hormone-replacement therapies to boost sex drive, energy, muscle building, and mood. But multiple recent studies show that they may also ratchet up the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death, prompting the FDA to question their safety.

Over the past decade, drug companies have been aggressively marketing testosterone gels, creams, patches, and injections as magic bullets for conditions linked to "low T." The idea that dosing your body with testosterone can cure lackluster libido, sluggishness, sleep anomalies, and other problems has more men than ever buying in. Prescriptions for testosterone treatments have increased more than fivefold since 2001.

But regardless of whether these products deliver on their promises, more and more evidence suggests they may do more harm than good. The most recent study, which has the FDA worried, found that testosterone therapies doubled the heart attack risk for men over age 65 after only three months on the drugs. Heart attack risk also doubled for younger guys with a history of heart disease. Previous trials have shown similar increases in cardiovascular risks, but the size and scope of this study – more than 55,000 men – make this news especially troubling.

Experts also fear than many men using testosterone therapies don't really need them. Testosterone levels decline naturally once you hit your mid-30s, and some younger guys have conditions like hypogonadism, in which they don't produce enough of the hormone. However, just because levels are low doesn't mean they're too low. Many guys don't really need medication, doctors say, especially if they're not experiencing several side effects. But even if you do have low sex drive, low energy, or other unwanted issues, something other than low testosterone may be to blame.

If you take testosterone, don't stop without first talking with your doctor. If you're considering treatment, get your testosterone levels tested and discuss the pros and cons. Together, you can decide whether the benefits will likely outweigh the potential risks.