Testosterone has had a colorful history. Early work on the steroid had a Harvard professor self-injecting a “rejuvenating elixir.” This was prepared from an extract of dog and guinea pig testicles. It seems even professorial types yearn for virility.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that testosterone was identified, and shortly afterward was synthesized (made from scratch). It didn’t take much longer for men to start experimenting with it.
Testosterone is the primary male hormone. It is classified as an androgenic steroid. All hormones are steroids and androgenic ones help build strong muscles.
Testosterone is closely related to, and synthesized from cholesterol (of all things). In men, 90 percent comes from the testicles. In women, who have a small percent of the testosterone that men do, it comes from the adrenal glands.
This androgenic steroid has only a few mainstream applications, probably not enough to support a national television advertising budget. Just how many men are running around without testicles? And how many would admit it? To my knowledge no one is doing focus groups of eunuchs figuring out how to sell testosterone cream.
The whole reason for synthetic testosterone to exist is off-label use, which is using a medication for some other condition than it is approved for by the DEA. There is nothing illegal about this and it’s very common for many drugs. It also has been problematic for a few medications.
Testosterone gradually decreases in men as they age. This is a normal finding, or at least it used to be. But in our youth-crazed society this is now a “testosterone deficiency.” So virtually every middle-aged male is a potential customer. Now that’s a demographic worth an advertising budget.
Many of the issues of middle-aged men look like they are made for testosterone replacement. Loss of muscle mass and strength – check. Loss of libido – check. Loss of energy, erection and general manliness – check on all three. Kind of makes you want to stop reading this and find a doctor and a pharmacy.
Not so fast – this is an anabolic steroid we are talking about. And steroids are among the strongest medications made. Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, among many other known steroid users, can attest to that.
Testosterone does increase protein production and adds to lean-muscle mass. It will speed maturation in young males and makes bones stronger. Certain types of anemia are also improved with testosterone treatment.
On the other side, anabolic steroids have many side effects if received in higher than physiologic doses. If someone is taking a physiologic dose (a normal dose that mimics what their testes would produce), there is really no point.
Anabolic steroids like testosterone commonly elevate blood pressure. Combine that with extreme physical exercise and you have a great one-two combination for a stroke.
Steroids also change the lipid ratio in the blood in the exact wrong direction (opposite of what Lipitor or your favorite statin does). The “bad cholesterol” rises and the “good cholesterol” goes down.
This increases the risk of heart attack, kidney disease and just about anything else that needs blood (meaning everything). And if that isn’t enough fun, steroids accelerate baldness and can make the testes atrophy.
A good case can be made for bringing males to normal testosterone levels for their age. Push it further in some effort for eternal youth and you might get just the opposite.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.