Dangers of using testosterone

by Dr. Philip S. Chua.
June 16, 2013
The various media, print, radio, television, and the internet are flooded with infomercials about testosterone replacement (rejuvenation and sex enhancing) therapy. Some even suggests it to be a fountain of youth that could stop the biological clock and transform males to “supermen in bed” and athletes to champions.
They invariably hail the enticing benefits of this therapy that include increased sexual libido and performance, and increased muscle mass, which are actually what natural testosterone men produced through their testes (testicles, “balls” in layman’s term). While this male hormone is safe, testosterone replacement drugs are not as safe and carry some dangers from their side effects. Taking these “pill supplements” has risks that are not worth the transient improvement in libido or athletic (muscle) prowess they provide. Some athletes cheat by using testosterone, among other power-and-endurance-enhancing substances (steroids, etc) to gain advantage over their opponents.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, whose 7 Tour de France titles and other honors have been stripped and who lost Nike and other corporate sponsors recently, is still under investigation for alleged use of any of these substances.
The peak level of testosterone secretion in male is around age 18, and it remains fairly high up to age 30. The level normally declines by 1 percent to 3 percent per year thereafter. If the decline is abnormally more than that, muscle wasting, reduced strength and sexual libido occur, especially those who do not exercise.
When the level is normal for the age, no testosterone supplement is needed even for diminished sexual libido, where Viagra, Cialis, Levitra might be a safer option. The Prolactin serum level is also tested to make sure the reduced libido is not central in nature (caused by brain/endocrine system malfunction). Testosterone is prescribed for men who are deficient in testosterone due to hypoganadism (poorly functioning testes in men or ovaries in females). Some older men have been taking this to “slow down the aging process,” which is ill-advised and really risky.
Cardiovascular risks
Use of testosterone, especially without physician guidance, is attended by high risks of developing heart problems, high blood pressure, heart failure and heart attack. The Mayo Clinic reported testosterone supplement may lead to polycythemia, an overproduction of red blood cells that thickens the blood, leading to blood clots, including thrombophlebitis (inflammation of the leg veins, leading to clots which could travel to the lungs – pulmonary embolus – to cause death). The cholesterol also shoots usp, especially the bad variety. Anemia, acne, clotting problems, and sleep apnea are seen among those who take testosterone supplements for some time.
Male breast enlargement
Men can develop huge enlargement of their breasts and have “female breasts” from testosterone accumulation among those who take the supplements, which leads to testosterone breakdown. This then results in sex hormonal imbalance, making the estrogen, which men produces in small quantity, to become the dominant hormone, causing some degree of feminization. In women on testosterone treatment, the opposite happens, masculinization, causing smaller breasts, menstrual abnormalities, enlarged clitoris, body hair, and a deep voice. Women whose partner uses testosterone gel on his skin may also “rub off” some masculinizing effects on the woman.
Reduced sperm and infertility
Reduction in sperm count and infertility are two other side effects of testosterone supplements. With less sperm produced, the volume during ejaculation is also less, which leads to infertility. Testosterone supplement can also cause prostate enlargement, and therefore urinary retention and obstruction with difficulty in urination, especially in older people.
Liver cancer
Long term use of testosterone, especially in high dosage, have caused deadly liver problems, like liver cancer, including hepatocellular type liver carcinoma. Jaundice (yellow skin and eye discoloration) and liver enzyme abnormalities can happen because of damage to the liver.
Among females, this therapy may also increase the risk for breast cancer, and those who have had breast cancer may develop higher danger of recurrence.
Medical Irresponsibility
It is a grave disservice to patients when some healthcare providers prescribe, or some friends recommend, testosterone supplement, without doing complete medical evaluation, including appropriate blood tests, etc. Persons who buy and take over the counter or herbal versions of this drug are endangering their health and their life.
This supplement should only be used by those whose body does not produce testosterone due to infection or tumors which have destroyed their pituitary glands. And this should be taken only under a physician’s supervision.
Unproven Therapy
“Testosterone therapy remains a scientifically unproven method for preventing any physical or psychological changes that men with normal testosterone levels may experience as they get older,” according to the US National Institute on Aging.
Certainly not a fountain of youth, use of testosterone is strictly reserved for those with extreme deficiency of this hormone “for the age,” which makes it rare. Most of those using the supplement today are misguided and victims of the massive hype created by infomercials of the trillion-dollar food supplement industry. There is not enough clinical evidence to justify the current popular use of this therapy.
Even the study conducted in Boston of 209 men 65 and over to evaluate a testosterone gel had to be stopped because of very high rate of adverse cardiovascular events (hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and obesity) among the subjects, as reported in the Endocrine Today website.
Unregulated Arena of risks
Like all the so-called food supplements in the market today, many with claims to be “good for” or “can cure” a host of diseases and ailments, including cancer, testosterone supplements, especially the herbal versions, are not regulated by any governmental oversight agencies. The manufacturers are not under any legal obligation to send their products for testing and evaluation for quality and safety, unlike proprietary drugs, which are strictly screened and scientifically tested by the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in great details for efficacy, proper dosing, side-effects and possible complications for any age group and for pregnancy and other conditions.
While this sounds ridiculous, this is, in fact, the reality. The public, the consumers, are left unprotected by the government, because this big loophole allows manufacturers of these food supplements to escape testing and scrutiny.
Lack of effectiveness of the product is one thing, but adverse side-effects on various organs of the body, which have led to fatal outcomes in some cases, is another.
As always, we must look after ourselves, our money, and save our own health and life from these greedy vendors of deceit. Consult a physician or, at least, Google the item. For more data on how to protect your health, visit

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