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Benefits of testosterone treatment for men’s sex problems are unclear

January 11th, 2007

Dr Petra

New research from the Mayo Clinic in the US suggests there is limited evidence to show that testosterone is safe from a cardiovascular standpoint and an effective means to treat sexual dysfunction.

The research published in the January issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings show that there’s really not enough information available to help us recommend using testosterone to treat erectile dysfunction and not enough evidence to show it is safe in terms of effects on the cardiovascular system. The researchers who led the studies said: “There is no way for physicians to be certain when prescribing testosterone that, on average, it’s doing more good than harm.”

According to a press release from the clinic “Both studies involved review and meta-analysis of randomised trials to assess the effect of testosterone on sexual dysfunction and cardiovascular events. Authors determined that no strong evidence exists showing testosterone doesn’t cause cardiovascular harm and results regarding its impact on sexual dysfunction are inconsistent”.

This means doctors may be making decisions to use testosterone to treat men but it may be their treatments are either not useful or could be harmful. However, this hasn’t stopped drug companies driving the testosterone promotion agenda, and the Mayo Clinic have expressed concern that doctors may be prescribing testosterone to men who are healthy but have a limited sex drive or tiredness and may have lowered testosterone levels. The clinic is advising that doctors and patients need to be aware that more research needs to be conducted before we can safely prescribe testosterone.

These findings are interesting although I’d be more reassured if they’d been published in a higher ranked journal than the Mayo Clinic’s proceedings. However it is good that the clinic is raising concerns about the drug and the way it is being marketed.

Calling for further research is also positive although this needs to be carefully monitored. Drug companies have encouraged doctors to prescribe testosterone to men and women to ‘fix’ sex problems and seeing a market here are unlikely to stop the pressure on medics to keep on writing scripts for the hormone – even if there’s no evidence to show it works. This means a call for further research will very likely be influenced and funded by drug companies who’ll not want an independent evaluation on the safety and effectiveness of testosterone.

The Mayo Clinic research focused on male treatments with testosterone not treating women with the hormone. Given the push to also market testosterone based hormonal treatments for women it’s worrying such treatments are being advocated whilst we still know so little about safety and effectiveness.

The message here is testosterone treatments are not proven to be safe or effective treatments for sexual problems at this time and until we know otherwise they should be avoided.

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