Male Sex Hormone

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What is this new sex hormone craze?

The male sex hormone is called testosterone, and this "new craze" is not new at all. The benefits and risks of this hormone have been debated for at least the past six decades, but this summer a more convenient form of this "exciting hope for men" will be introduced in the market. Hence, the renewed interest, especially among the baby boomers, who would like to "regain their sexual and physical prowess."

When was testosterone discovered?

This male hormone was isolated in 1935. Unlike hormone replacement therapy in women, which has been an accepted practice, although not totally, testosterone replacement therapy in men has not been a practice in medicine at all. Concern about its potential abuse, fears about its possible serious complications, and inconvenience in its administration (till now) have all discouraged its use, even by the prescribing physicians.

What does this hormone do?

Testosterone is a hormone that is normally secreted internally by our glands. It is an androgen (family of male sex hormones), which is made of fat known as steroids. In the first 5 weeks of gestation, all embryos are technically "sexless." About the 6th week, the presence of the Y chromosome in the males triggers a surge of testosterone, which, among other things, sets into motion the formation of penis and testes. Testosterone has the reputation (deserved or undeserved) to improve libido and muscle mass in men, and thought to be responsible for the feistiness, aggression, competitiveness and belligerence in men. This is still a scientifically unsettled question.

Do women have testosterone?

Yes, women have testosterone also. Men produce this hormone in the testes (testicles) and adrenal glands and women produce testosterone in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Men produce much much more. The average healthy man secretes about 260 to 1,000 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood plasma. Women produce about 15 to 70. In teenage boys, the level could be as high as 2000 nanograms, which explains their sexual drive and how they behave. After the age of 30, the production of testosterone gradually tapers.

When does the peak level occur?

Among healthy men, the testosterone levels vary during daytime, dips about half before bedtime, and peaks around 8 in the morning, which explains why men wake up in a stage of sexual arousal.

Does testosterone have anything to do with male aggression?

While this is still a controversy, it is believed that male aggression (and the "macho" male behavior) is due to testosterone. Studies in animals have shown this. When males (in many species) were castrated, the result are pussycats. When testosterone was injected into castrated animals, they started to act more like tigers. In one research study in healthy men whose testosterone level was suppressed by medications, and whose libido and dominant behaviors were "tamed" as a result, adding back a mere 20% testosterone made them regain their normal sex drive and male behaviors.

Any male traits attributable to this hormone?

Yes, the "take-charge" leadership qualities in men, the risk-taking, more daring male traits have been attributed to the level of testosterone, as compared to women, who are, in general, more passive than men. Are these differences between the sexes due to upbringing and environmental factors and not only due to biological variations? In prepubescent children, the testosterone levels are about equal, and yet boys and girls at this age behave differently, even in their choice of activities and games. As we have stated earlier, this is still an unsettled question.

What is this new testosterone preparation?

Testosterone has been in the market since it was introduced about 65 years ago, but it was available in "inconvenient forms," like patches (on scrotum, thigh, abdomen, low back), pills or injections. The newest one that is coming out will be in the form pf a gel, called AndroGel, to be applied on hairless skin once to several times a day according to a physician's advice. This is absorbed into the blood circulation, much like other medicated gel or lotion or cream. The delivery of testosterone is said to be more controlled, steady and mimics the natural variation in cycles and level of the hormone.

What are the possible problems and risks?

Some of possible complications and risks of taking or using testosterone are blood clots, increase in bad cholesterol and decrease in good cholesterol, acne and breast development, liver damage, possible increase in the incidence of prostate cancer, acceleration in the growth of existing prostate cancer. Teenagers taking testosterone could shut down bone growth and development.

Who needs testosterone treatment?

Testosterone replacement therapy is indicated for men who have been found to have abnormally low level of the hormone. The benefit of taking an additional amount of testosterone by men who have normal level of the hormone is questionable at best. This is not only foolish and expensive but dangerous as well.

Is testosterone safe for muscle building?

No. Boosting the development of muscle mass or trying to achieve athletic prowess through the use of testosterone or anabolic steroids is unhealthy and unsafe. This abuse is rampant in colleges, universities and sports circle all over the world, and the ultimate victims are the athletes themselves, who might have a transient moment of glorious victory but who will have a lifetime of suffering from the side effects of the drugs.

Is AndroGel an over-the-counter drug?

No, not in the United States, where it needs prescription before dispensing. Even if it could be obtained over the counter or "under the table," it is prudent and wise to consult a physician before taking or using testosterone or anabolic agents. The possible complications and risks are far too great to ignore. Competent medical evaluation and guidance are a must prior to the use of these drugs.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.