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Supplemental testosterone

Supplemental testosterone: Healthy or not?

Americans are known for wanting a quick fix, now. This mantra even applies to testosterone boosters used to rev up men’s sex drives. Annual sales of prescription hormone enhancers have more than doubled since 2008, according to research, and some experts predict it will be a $5 billion industry by 2017. And those numbers do not include testosterone supplements purchased over the counter or by mail. Raj Laungani, M.D., a urologist at Piedmont Urology Specialists, says this is especially alarming considering the health risks of these medications.

After age 30, testosterone levels in men drop about 1 percent every year. As testosterone levels dip, men can experience decreased sex drive, energy levels, muscle mass and physical strength. They may also experience weight gain and sexual dysfunction.

“These symptoms are a natural progression of age. A man in his 50s cannot expect to have the same energy level and sex drive as a man in his 20s,” says Dr. Laungani.

Potential side effects

That is why he takes special care in discussing supplemental testosterone and its harmful side effects with his patients.

“I typically will only prescribe these supplements to men who are 50-plus,” he says. “For men in their reproductive years, these medications can permanently alter their natural hormonal production as their bodies become reliant on these supplements.”

The potential side effects of testosterone supplements include:

  • Hair loss
  • Male breast enlargement
  • Acne
  • Testicular atrophy
  • Prostate enlargement
  • Loss of libido
  • Increased aggression
  • Infertility

Dangerous side effects

Hypertension: Hypertension strains the heart. It can lead to hypertensive heart disease and coronary artery disease, and is a major risk factor for stroke, aneurysms of the arteries and peripheral arterial disease. It can also lead to chronic kidney disease.

Higher red blood cell count: Testosterone may cause your body to make too many red blood cells. This increases your risk for heart disease, which may lead to heart attack or stroke.

Enlarged prostate: The prostate could get enlarged while taking these boosters, which could make urination difficult and painful. If you already have prostate cancer, the hormone will increase its growth rate. This is why a prostrate exam is a must before you start taking the boosters.

Elevated PSA levels: The PSA test is a blood test used to measure a substance called prostate-specific antigen in the blood. It is used as a screening tool for prostate cancer. In a healthy male, the PSA level should be less than 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Anything higher than 4 is considered abnormal and may indicate prostate cancer.

Liver damage: Testosterone products, especially those consumed orally, pose the risk of serious liver problems.

“Any male taking these supplements needs to know the risks involved,” says Dr. Laungani. “There may be other alternatives to medication that are worth trying, like increased exercise, altered diet and stress management. Supplements should be a last resort and only taken under the care of a physician.”

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