Testosterone supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years to treat a condition known as “Low T” — a lack of naturally-occurring testosterone in the body. Millions of men are using testosterone to treat issues like low energy, lack of sex drive, and problems building muscle mass. However, these synthetic hormones are not without risks. Potential side effects of testosterone include blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.
Manufacturers of testosterone supplements (like AndroGel) have invested heavily in marketing their products to men. They offer them up as a way to improve one’s quality of life, and their advertisements feature heavily in traditionally male-oriented media, like sports coverage.
The problem with testosterone therapy is that the potential side effects may well outweigh the benefits for many patients. It’s not just men who are at risk; either; women and children (and even family pets) may be at risk. Some victim users have filed lawsuits against testosterone product manufacturers alleging that their ads are deceptive and the side effects of testosterone are being severely downplayed.
* Testosterone And Heart Health
There are multiple medical studies which have documented the potential risks involved in taking testosterone supplements. The most alarming of these risks is perhaps the potential for serious cardiac issues such as heart attacks.
The PLoS One journal published such a study in January of 2014. It found that the risk of heart attacks in male patients past the age of 65 (and younger patients with undiagnosed heart disease) actually doubled after just 90 days of therapeutic testosterone supplements.
Research for this study was conducted by UCLA together with the National Cancer Institute. Data on roughly 56,000 patients was collected and conditions before and after testosterone therapy were assessed. This study has plenty of company in establishing cautionary ties between testosterone therapy and heart disease.
Two separate studies conducted in 2010 and 2013 were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Both studies concentrated on older men or those who frail and both studies discovered an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiac events. The NEJM study even turned up the case of a man who suffered a fatal heart attack which was almost certainly caused by the side effects of testosterone.
* Strokes And Blood Clots
A stroke is technically referred to as a cerebrovascular accident, or CVA. The studies in the NEJM and the JAMA both found increased CVA risk among patients who used testosterone gels. Strokes were fully 30 percent more likely among testosterone users. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, some of the studies’ participants required emergency procedures to clear the arteries.
Testosterone supplements also increase the risk of mini-strokes, which are also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIA). These attacks occur when blood flow to the brain ceases temporarily. TIAs are important because roughly one-third of the people who experience them subsequently have a full stroke within 12 months.
Testosterone gels have a well-known tendency to increase the size of blood cells, making the blood thicker. This is the most likely culprit behind the increased risk of strokes and blood clots experienced by testosterone users.
* Testosterone And The Prostate
Besides the cardiac risks, evidence is mounting that testosterone also increases the risk of prostate cancer. This can be caused by the extremely high levels of testosterone in the body that result from therapy. A study conducted by Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and lead by Dr. Terrence Shaneyfelt found that prostate cancer risk doubled in patients whose testosterone levels are elevated by testosterone therapy.
In another study, which looked over medical histories for patients treated by six different urology clinics, many patients were found who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer after testosterone therapy. In some cases the diagnosis occurred less than two years after the start of the therapy.
While the initial reports and studies are troubling, a number of researchers have said that further analysis and more studies are required to better understand the relationship between testosterone supplements and prostate cancer. It’s very important that men who elect to undergo testosterone therapy do so under the supervision of a doctor who screens regularly for prostate cancer. Testosterone products are not appropriate for men who have already experienced prostate trouble.
* Other Side Effects Of Testosterone
Besides the serious problems discussed above, there is significant evidence pointing to a number of less dangerous but still unpleasant side effects from testosterone products. These issues include:
** Sleep Apnea
Men who have already experienced a degree of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may find that testosterone treatments make the problem worse. OSA is caused by reducing air flow due to a constricted or blocked airway during sleep. OSA can elevate the risk of atrial fibrillation, cardiac ischemia (a lack of blood flowing to the heart), and strokes. Patients who suffer from OSA are strongly encouraged to have the condition treated prior to considering testosterone treatment.
** Hormonal Imbalance
Obviously, boosting the levels of testosterone in the body may cause an imbalance in the other hormones. This can lead to changes in hair growth, acne, oilier skin, and an increase in male breast tissue. Hormonal imbalances can also cause the testicles to shrink and create permanent fertility problems.
Polycythemia is the formal name for an excess of red blood cells. This condition is caused by excessive blood cell production in the bone marrow and leads to thicker blood, increasing the risk of strokes and clots. Testosterone therapy has the potential to cause or exacerbate polycythemia.
* Testosterone And Non-Users
As noted above, testosterone therapy can pose a risk to those around the patient. Women or children may come in contact with the drug accidentally, especially with testosterone gels which are topically applied. Skin-to-skin contact can lead to significant side effects of testosterone, including hair growth and acne. Pregnant women who come into contact with therapeutic testosterone may be putting their fetus at risk.
The FDA issued a warning regarding the risks involved in exposing children to testosterone gels in 2009. Accidental exposure can lead to symptoms like advanced bone aging, aggressive behavior, premature puberty, and abnormally large genitalia in both male and female children. Male breast growth is a possibility for boys. Similar symptoms may occur in pets that are accidentally exposed to testosterone.