BY RALPH BLUM
In case you haven’t noticed, testosterone has become the hormone du jour as we older men seek to
maintain the bizarre illusion that we are still really in our late 30s. The
“Big T” is the principal male sex hormone--all about virility, what “makes a
man a man.” It is largely responsible for the traits and characteristics that are
considered “masculine”—muscle strength and mass, abundance of body hair, power
and dominance, libido and—the big enchilada--erection strength and frequency.
The search for increased virility has been ongoing since
ancient Greek Olympians feasted on goat and lamb testicles to boost their
performance. Traditional Chinese herbalists apparently prescribed dried tiger’s
penis for impotence. In 1889, a Harvard professor by the name of
Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard injected himself with a “rejuvenating elixir”
containing the extract of dog and guinea pig testicle, reporting increased
vigor and well-being. It wasn’t until Big Pharma got into the act in the 1930s
that the hormone was isolated and named testosterone.
Fortunately, today, men don’t have to consume animal
genitalia to increase their testosterone levels. Testosterone is readily
available as injections, pellets, patches or gels for those men who need it.
Less fortunately, smart advertising campaigns have made it sound like a
panacea, promising increased energy, better concentration, increased muscle
tone, less body fat, and, of course, higher sex drive. And who doesn’t want all
When the maker of Androgel launched its “Low T” campaign
in 2008 showing dumpy, depressed men and their unhappy spouses, 1.4 million
prescriptions for the drug were written in the U.S. in its first year alone.
Today, men are spending billions of dollars on testosterone replacement
therapies. Websites peddle testosterone without requiring a prescription,
advertisements for “Low T” are splayed across billboards in Florida, and so
many CEOs and Wall Street executives are taking it that the Media has dubbed it
“Viagra for the Boardroom.”
This extreme enthusiasm among men for the “Big T” may or
may not turn out to be a good thing. What we do know is that for those men with
prostate cancer, testosterone supplementation may be risky. Studies have shown
that elevated testosterone levels are associated with increased risk for diagnosis of prostate cancer. The
concern of course is that to prostate cancer cells, testosterone is like food.
I’ll let Dr. Brad Anawalt have the last word. In the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology &
Metabolism he wrote: “We are threatened with a mad ‘T’ party.”
So if you have prostate cancer (or even if you fear a
diagnosis of prostate cancer) and have been tempted by the advertising blitz
promising that testosterone supplementation is the ultimate anti-aging formula,
as the old Romans used to say, Caveat
emptor: “Let the buyer beware!”