Testosterone Therapy: Terrific or Terrible?

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. --Men are turning to testosterone therapy like never before to boost energy, attention and sex drive. But is T terrific or terrible?

Robert Coker is buff at age 52. But not long ago, you wouldn't have found him at Lifetime Fitness.

"I didn't have the energy to get up and go to the gym in the mornings," said Coker.

Coker said blood testing at Midwest Restorative Healht revealed he had low testosterone. The clinic is part of the burgeoning business of T therapy. Testosterone comes in prescription patches, gels, shots and pellets. Pellets are used at the clinic where Coker is treated. The pellets are implanted through a small incision every three months.

"They're designed to kind of dissolve into the bloodstream over the next three months," said Dr. Jim Staheli.

The doctor said raising testosterone can lift energy, brain fog, muscles and sex drive. Coker said it's sort of a fountain of youth.

"Puts me in the feeling of the age range between 25 and 40 years old. I recommend it to just about any male," said Coker.

Dr. Staheli said it's about treating individuals who are sick.

"By sick, I mean they're experiencing symptoms of low T," said Dr. Staheli.

A sickness? Dr. Ajay Nangia of the University of Kansas Hospital disagrees.

"Low testosterone is representing a general decline in our health and not the cause of our declining health," said Dr. Nangia.

He says inactivity, lack of sleep, poor diet and other factors lead to obesity which can lower testosterone levels.

"And many times, if you fix those, quess what? The original problem which is energy, libido even, can improve," the K.U. urologist said.

Dr. Staheli said those issues are addressed with men who come to the clinic where he practices.

"There isn't a patient who goes through here that we don't spend time with them going over those very things," Dr. Staheli added.

So what's the harm in taking T? Kevin Larson thought it was terrific. His family practice doctor prescribed shots to boost energy and help him lose weight.

"I dropped 50 pounds within about six months," said Larson.

About the same time, Kevin and wife, Sarah, were trying to give son, Casey, a sibling, and not succeeding.

Kevin saw Dr. Nangia who dropped a bombshell.

"Men who are still in their reproductive years, who still want to have children should not, repeat not, be put on testosterone," said Dr. Nangia.

The hormone that men take to increase virility decreases fertility. It lowers sperm counts. Dr. Nangia says one out of 10 men he sees with fertility problems are taking testosterone. His research shows when you stop T therapy, sperm counts skyrocket.

And guess what happens? The Larsons welcomed little Charlie three months ago. Kevin says beware of testosterone therapy. It doesn't suit every man to a T.

Dr. Nangia is concerned that many men are being prescribed T who haven't even been tested for low T, and don't have it. He said you need two blood draws done in the morning to prove it's low.

A study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found T therapy raised the chances of heart attacks, strokes and death in older men, many of whom had known heart disease.

According to Mayo Clinic, testosterone therapy may:

  • Contribute to sleep apnea - a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts
  • Cause your body to make too many red blood cells (polycythemia), which can increase the risk of heart disease
  • Cause acne or other skin reactions
  • Stimulate noncancerous growth of the prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and possibly stimulate growth of existing prostate cancer
  • Enlarge breasts
  • Limit sperm production or cause testicle shrinkage

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