It’s no longer a secret that an adult man’s testosterone levels will decline with age. This natural process, called male menopause or andropause, has gotten recent press with the advent of erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra and Proscar. The billions of dollars these drugs have generated for pharmaceutical companies demonstrates that men are clearly looking for a boost in their sexual prowess as they age. But, as usual, these drugs are focused on treating the symptom and not the cause.
It is now widely accepted that bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is beneficial for women in the prevention of many age-related conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease. BHRT has also been demonstrated to improve several quality of life factors as women go through menopause and it preserves mental acuity into later life. Men do not have the cessation of menses as a physical marker to signify a transition into declining hormone levels, but nonetheless, they are going through a very similar process with testosterone as the dwindling culprit. It therefore stands to reason that in select cases, men will benefit from BHRT with testosterone the same as women have benefitted from estrogen and/or progesterone.
In fact, research has shown that to be just the case. Recent studies have shown energy, muscle mass, mood, cholesterol profiles, weight, mental acuity, and heart disease have all improved with normalizing testosterone levels in men who have tested low. That’s not even mentioning the positive effects it has on both sexual function and libido, the latter of which does not improve with Viagra, Cialis, or Proscar.
There are two major problems with the way many practitioners test for testosterone. Either they are testing the wrong type, they are only taking a snapshot, or (most commonly) they are taking a snapshot of the wrong type. 97% of total testosterone circulating in the blood is bound to proteins. Once bound it becomes totally inactive and can no longer influence the body. The remaining 3% of circulating testosterone is unbound or free testosterone. This is the only form of testosterone that is active in the body and is therefore the only type that should be tested when suspecting a deficiency.
The other major flaw in testing has been to only look at one reading throughout the day. Testosterone readings vary dramatically depending on what time of day it is tested. A normal testosterone cycle peaks at mid-morning then again in the late afternoon and again between 3-5am (when it is at its highest for the day). It is therefore best to take multiple readings throughout the day with saliva samples or with a twenty-four hour urine collection to get an accurate portrayal of a man’s free hormone production.
Although natural testosterone has been proven far safer, cheaper, and more beneficial than synthetic attempts to resemble it, the pharmaceutical industry markets and influences many practitioners to use injectable products called testosterone esters (t. propionate, t. cypionate, etc.). These injectable drugs mimic natural testosterone but have had their molecular structure altered so that they will last longer and (more importantly) so that they can be patented and lead to greater profits.
Injectable testosterone esters pose a few problems. First, they do not follow the natural daily cycle as mentioned above. Instead, they are injected once a week or every two weeks causing a huge spike one day and then a gradual decline until the man is deficient for the days leading up to his next injection. This method greatly disturbs the other hormones in the body that respond to testosterone via feedback signaling. Also predictably, it results in huge swings in mood, libido, etc.
As a better option for most men, natural testosterone is taken as a sublingual tablet or is applied as a cream or gel multiple times a day in an attempt to follow the normal daily cycle. It is usually isolated from plants, either soy or Mexican yam. Because it is an exact replica of the testosterone molecule naturally made by the body it is not patentable and is therefore cheaper. The body is able to process it as if it was produced from within the body and it does not adversely affect other hormones.
To improve sexual function and the other diverse aspects of men’s health known to deteriorate with age, natural testosterone along with healthy diet, specific vitamins, herbs, and a healthy lifestyle are demonstrably more effective and safer than synthetic hormones and pharmaceutical drugs. Used in doses to match levels present in a healthy man and on a schedule that closely follows the naturally occurring daily cycle, natural testosterone has been shown to improve sex drive, improve ability to achieve and sustain erections, protect against heart disease, increase energy, build stronger bones and muscles, relieve depression, improve cholesterol ratio’s, reduce weight, and prevent age-related losses in mental acuity.
Naturopathic Medical Doctor