Attention all men of a discerning vintage: Falling asleep after dinner? Feeling grumpy? Having trouble sustaining an erection?
According to research being presented this weekend in Geneva, aging men suffering from weak muscles, memory, bones and libido, besides being just plain cranky, may benefit from hormone-replacement therapy.
The Second World Congress on the Aging Male has attracted 658 doctors from 58 countries, all experts on keeping men healthier after they reach andropause, a natural drop-off of sex hormones in men’s bodies that occurs at some point during middle age.
The research being presented suggests scientists are reaching a consensus that supplementing testosterone and other hormones may be just what the doctor ordered to keep the ravages of “male menopause” at bay.
The end result is that the male sex hormone testosterone – which developed a bad reputation because of its association with steroid abuse by athletes and its reputedly harmful effects on the heart – is getting an image makeover.
“Testosterone’s bad image is changing,” said Dr. David Crook, a biochemist with St. Bartholomew’s School of Medicine in London, who gave an overview of the natural steroid’s research history on Thursday. “People are going to start switching from linking it to an increased risk of heart disease to considering testosterone as having real potential benefits in heart disease . . . the buzz is now its potential benefits for the brain and memory, in particular.”
Research presented at the conference did indeed link testosterone-replacement therapy to dilation of the heart’s arteries, which lets more blood flow through. Testosterone supplementation was also associated with preventing dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease and with improving memory. Other research showed that combining testosterone with Viagra resulted in harder and more satisfying erections for men whose testosterone levels were low.
Dr. Richard Bebb, an endocrinologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, presented the results of his study of 40 men around the age of 60, half of whom were given testosterone therapy for 12 months. In those who took the hormone, bone mineral density in the lumbar spine increased; in those who didn’t, it decreased. (Loss of height in men, associated with the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, is also considered a symptom of andropause or decreased levels of testosterone.)
“We’ve come to realize that osteoporosis is a significant problem in men,” Dr. Bebb said from Geneva. “Women get osteoporosis 10 years ahead of men. But if you compare a man and a woman at the age of 75, both with hip fractures, the man is two to three times more likely to die from complications of it than the woman.”
If some of the doctors sound like they are touting hormones, others are being cautious.
“There are lots of unknowns,” said Dr. Roland Tremblay, an endocrinologist from Laval, Que., and president of the Canadian Andropause Society.
Kingston, Ont.-based urologist, Dr. Alvaro Morales, has brought the results of an Angus Reid poll done in Canada to the congress to show there is still a large gap in the understanding of the hormonal changes that men go through in middle age. “The results show that women are more knowledgeable about aging men’s hormonal changes than men are themselves,” Dr. Morales said.