April 2016

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Testosterone Therapy Tested in Older Men

As men age, they often produce less testosterone than they did in their youth. Testosterone is a chemical signal that contributes to male characteristics, such as a deep voice, facial hair, and muscle growth. Men with low levels of testosterone may have symptoms such as fatigue, decreased sexual desire, and difficulty walking.

To see if testosterone therapy might help ease such symptoms, NIH started a series of studies called the Testosterone Trials. These trials are a key step before considering larger, lengthier trials to assess long-term risks and benefits.

Results are in from 3 of the trials. These focused on men with low testosterone levels who had either low sexual function, difficulty walking, or low vitality (fatigue and low energy).

Researchers enrolled 790 men, ages 65 and up, at 12 sites nationwide. The men received a gel, either with or without testosterone, to apply to their skin every day for a year.

For men who had low sexual function, the testosterone therapy increased sexual desire and function. But for the men in the other 2 trials, the treatment didn’t improve walking ability or vitality.

When the researchers combined data from all 3 of the trials, walking speed and distance did seem to improve with testosterone. The therapy also had some benefit for mood, energy, and depressive symptoms among men in all 3 trials combined.

The findings suggest that testosterone treatment of older men who have very low testosterone levels may have some benefit. “However, decisions about testosterone treatment for these men will also depend on the results of the other 4 trials,” says head researcher Dr. Peter J. Snyder at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Older men who are considering testosterone therapy should discuss potential benefits and drawbacks with a health care provider.