Testosterone replacement drugs are surging in popularity in Australia and Canada, thanks to slick promotional campaigns and “disease mongering” by pharmaceutical companies, said the author of a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).
In the study, David Handelsman, director of the ANZAC Research Institute at the University of Sydney, examined patterns in testosterone drug prescribing in Australia from 1992 to 2010. He found total expenditures on testosterone prescriptions more than doubled in that time period after taking into account inflation and population growth, yet there was no correlating increase in the number of approved uses for the drugs, nor was there an increase in the frequency of conditions for which they are approved.
Australia’s Sky News cites Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme statistics that show 29,000 testosterone replacement products were dispensed in Australia in 2005. By 2010 that number had grown to 62,000 – a increase of 115 percent.
Professor Handelsman notes that Australian doctors followed the lead of Europe and the United States in prescribing testosterone products for a dubious condition called “andropause,” the male equivalent of menopause in which a hormonal deficiency occurs with age.
“One suspects a strong marketing campaign has led to the overuse of testosterone as a tonic for male sexual dysfunction and ageing, without proper evidence,” says a summary of the study.
“The risks inherent in this situation are clear,” says the author of the study’s summary in the AMJ. “Testosterone is known to have significant adverse effects, such as unfavourable cardiovascular outcomes and a possible effect on the progression of subclinical prostate cancer. One recalls the overblown hopes for hormone replacement therapy in women and wonders about an ethical lapse allowing similar mistakes to be repeated for men.”
According to Sky News, “Advertisements by two companies which ran in Australia and Canada in the past four years encouraged men with the symptoms to see their doctor for a testosterone test and ask about new treatments.” However, “Australian and Canadian researchers said low testosterone was an unlikely cause of these symptoms,” Sky News reported.
Agnes Vitry from the University of South Australia and Barbara Mintzes from the University of British Columbia in Canada told Sky News that despite its popularity, testosterone replacement therapy “has not been shown to improve libido and sexual function, depression and cognitive function, or quality of life in men with age-related testosterone loss.”
Conversely, testosterone drugs may actually be exposing the men to a slew of adverse effects, including heightened risk of developing prostate cancer. The authors of the new Australian study noted that a clinical trial of testosterone replacement drugs in older men was stopped early because of increased rates of adverse cardiovascular events.
Women and children are also at risk of secondary exposure through physical contact with a man who uses topical testosterone gels such as Androgel and Testim — two popular products made and sold in the U.S.
Children exposed to testosterone replacement drugs may undergo premature sexual development, including enlargement of the genitals and development of pubic hair, increased erections, aggressive behavior, and advanced bone age. Women exposed the drugs may experience changes in hair distribution, increase in acne, and other signs of unnaturally increased testosterone levels.