A year of testosterone replacement therapy did not improve memory but did increase the fatty plaque in coronary arteries, a condition that increases the risk for heart disease, according to a study newly published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and JAMA Internal Medicine.
Testosterone replacement therapy, widely promoted by pharmaceutical companies for the treatment of so-called Low T, has become a $2 billion market. The prescription treatment is intended for men with hypogonadism, a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the male hormone. But because it has been heavily marketed and, thus, widely prescribed, medical professionals have raised concerns that many men are being prescribed the drug who don’t actually need it.
Red flags emerged when studies began to suggest that use of testosterone treatments increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Thousands of men filed lawsuits against testosterone manufacturers alleging the companies did not adequately warn consumers of this risk. AbbVie, maker of AndroGel testosterone therapy, faces the largest number of lawsuits.
The latest study involved 138 in total with a mean age of 71 with cardiovascular risk factors. Researchers found that 20 percent of participants treated with testosterone treatment had greater buildup of non-calcified plaque in their arteries than men who received a placebo gel. This can cause blockages that can lead to conditions such as coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease, or peripheral arterial disease, depending on the location of the blockage.
This study adds to findings from a study last year that showed testosterone supplements did not improve fatigue or walking speed in men and offered only modest benefits on sexual function, which diminished by the end of the study.
Testosterone is known to increase red blood cell production. Testosterone treatments now carry warnings that testosterone therapy can cause an overproduction of red blood cells, which can thicken the blood, increasing the risk of blood clots, which can lead to life threatening strokes.