Author: E. Barry Gordon, MD
Most people have heard of testosterone, but very few are aware of the diseases resulting from the hormone’s deficiency. This situation is not surprising. Testosterone is frequently in the news media either because of its energizing effect on our sexuality or, more commonly, because of its illegal overuse to enhance athletic performance. Because of this the hormone has taken on something of a sordid, sleazy, even illegal, aura.
The reason very few people are aware of the disease of testosterone deficiency is that no one talks about it. It’s been swept under the medical rug and kept there. Even most of the medical community know very little, if anything, about the scope and severity of this disease. Many don’t want to know about it. They are frightened by the myths and don’t want to be associated with the popular perceptions.
The reality is that testosterone deficiency is an extremely common condition affecting men and women of all adult age groups. It robs us of our strength, energy, and sexuality. It damages our psyche and affects our personal relationships. It is a cause of, or a great contributor to, a wide range of diseases that result in illness, debility, and, ultimately, death. It is the medical tragedy of our time that the medical establishment chooses to ignore and neglect this disease. The costs in human suffering, infirmity, and death, and the costs to society in dollars, are immense.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is one of the steroid families of hormones. “Steroid” has become a well known term during recent decades, but few people know what the word actually means. Steroid is a descriptive chemical term defining a class of hormones that are derived from the parent compound cholesterol.
There are many different steroid hormones, and different steroid hormones have markedly different, often even opposite effects. When you encounter someone expressing an opinion about “steroids” as if they were a single entity, you’ll know that they have absolutely no idea of what they’re talking about.
The steroid hormones are made in the ovaries, the testes, and the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. The main steroid hormones made by the adrenal glands are necessary for life and are secreted during our entire lifespan. The steroid hormone, cortisol (a form of cortisone), for example, is vital. It has major effects on our metabolism, regulating sodium and potassium concentrations and maintaining adequate blood sugar levels. It sustains blood pressure and stabilizes the cardiovascular system. It inhibits and regulates the immune system and inflammatory processes, affects our mental functioning, and inhibits new bone formation (counterbalanced by testosterone). If our adrenal glands stopped secreting cortisol, an uncommon condition, we would get progessively ill and die. This condition, an Addisonian crisis, is characterized by severe body pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and falling blood pressure and sugar levels which, if untreated, leads to seizures, coma, and death.
The nature of cortisone is such that when large doses are used to treat a disease the hormone is catabolic (biologically destructive). It can cause or worsen diabetes, severely depress the immune system, thin bones (osteoporosis), and markedly weaken muscles.
The main steroid hormones made by the ovaries and testes are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, the reproductive hormones. Quite the opposite of cortisone, testosterone is anabolic (biologically constructive). It is recognized as the male steroid hormone, although in both sexes it stimulates body growth, muscle and bone strength, and sexual desire. The testes make much more testosterone than the ovaries, and these larger quantities are responsible for masculine sex organs, facial hair, and body size, etc.
In a similar way the steroid hormones estrogen and progesterone are known as female hormones because of their role in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Unlike the adrenal glands, the ovaries and testes do not secrete their hormones in adequate quantities during our entire lifespan. While these hormones are fundamental for sex and reproduction, they are not necessary for life in the manner of cortisone. The loss of testosterone does kill us, but very, very, slowly, so slowly in fact, that this fundamental reality, the devastation caused by testosterone deficiency, has yet to be fully recognized.
What are the effects of testosterone deficiency?
As mentioned above, the disease of testosterone deficiency is insidious, coming on us so gradually that we don’t even notice it as a disease. I would divide the known consequences to both sexes into two categories:
Effects of testosterone deficiency known to, and accepted by, the medical community:
– Loss of sexual desire and responsiveness
– Chronic fatigue
– Muscle weakness
– Anemia in older women
– Erectile dysfunction
Effects of testosterone deficiency for which there is ample research evidence:
– Type II diabetes
– Coronary artery disease
– Peripheral vascular disease
– Senile dementia
– Congestive heart failure
– Reduced life span