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Testosterone and male ageing: spinning the wheels

David J Handelsman
Med J Aust 2010; 193 (7): 379-380.
Published online: 4 October 2010

Results of two new trials will drive further research into the “andropause hypothesis”

Two important research articles, published in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), bracket the topic of prescribing testosterone for older men.1,2 Testosterone treatment for older men is based on considering male ageing as analogous to either menopause or pathologically based hypogonadism. The former is a false analogy — menopause has a unique natural history featuring complete failure of female reproductive hormones in mid-adult life, contrary to all other human hormonal systems which decline gradually and modestly with ageing. The latter is based on the superficial resemblance of non-specific symptoms in ageing men with those of most hormonal deficiencies or chronic diseases. This “andropause hypothesis” is not well substantiated, with the 2004 United States Institute of Medicine’s authoritative review3 concluding that available evidence did not justify a major study of testosterone replacement in older men comparable to the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study of oestrogen replacement in menopause. Nevertheless, the past two decades have seen an approximately 20-fold increase in testosterone prescribing despite no proven new indications. This is largely confined to the US, with minimal changes in Australia4 and other regional markets; however, that bandwagon could certainly be viewed as having left the station, fuelled by heavy direct-to-public drug advertising in the US.

  • David J Handelsman

  • ANZAC Research Institute, Concord Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: djh@anzac.edu.au

Competing interests:

I have received consultancy fees from Clarus Therapeutics and Radius for advising United States companies on androgens. My institution has received funding from Bayer Schering Pharma and Ascend for investigator-initiated research.

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