Approximately 30% of men aged 60-70 years and 70% of men aged 70-80 have low levels of testosterone in forms that the body can use (bioavailable; unbound; free).
Hypogonadism is a clinical condition in which low levels of serum testosterone (bioavailable testosterone less than 60 ng/dl) are found in association with specific signs and symptoms, including diminished sex drive and sense of vitality, erectile dysfunction, depression, anemia, reduced muscle mass and bone density, increased fat mass, frailty, and osteoporosis. A man may be considered hypogonadal at any age if total testosterone (bound and free) is less than 200 ng/dl. It is recommended that elderly men with symptoms of hypogonadism and a total testosterone level less than 300 ng/dl be started on hormone replacement.
When hypogonadism occurs in an older man, the condition is often called andropause, or Androgen Deficiency of the Aging Male (ADAM), because testosterone is in a class of hormones known as androgens.
Bioavailable testosterone levels are significantly lower for depressed men, perhaps because an associated decrease in sexual function results in depression, irritability, and mood swings. Testosterone therapy might improve depressed mood in older men who have low levels of bioavailable testosterone.
Osteoporosis-related fractures occur in 12% of all men over 50 years of age. Twenty-five percent of all hip fractures occur in men, and 33% of these patients die within one year of fracture. Gradual loss of testosterone is one of the major causes of osteoporosis in elderly men. Studies have reported beneficial effects of testosterone therapy on bone in older men, showing an increase in bone mineral density (BMD) and slowing of bone degeneration. Testosterone therapy in older men with low serum testosterone levels also increases lean body mass and decreases fat mass, improving physical performance and strength.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) has relieved symptoms and improved the quality of life for many men. TRT is a well tolerated means of treating hypogonadal elderly males, provided that laboratory values and clinical response are frequently monitored.
The only absolute contraindication to androgen replacement therapy is the presence of prostate or breast cancer. Guidelines recommend that TRT should not be initiated in older men with PSA serum levels above the normal range. Testosterone should be used with caution in men with severe heart, kidney or liver disease, increased red blood cell counts, and sleep apnea. Side effects of testosterone therapy can include mood swings, leg swelling, skin reactions, acne, alopecia, breast enlargement, and infertility. Liver toxicity has not been reported following testosterone administration using transdermal gels in physiologic doses. (Toxicity has occurred with methyltestosterone.)
Testosterone is well-absorbed from transdermal creams, gels, and lotions. Compounded preparations can be advantageous because the exact amount of hormone needed by each man can be applied as a single dose to an area that will limit exposure of loved ones or pets to testosterone.
A healthy lifestyle is associated with higher hormone levels, and higher hormone levels seem to induce a more active, healthier lifestyle. For optimal results, it is vital that hormone replacement therapy be combined with adequate exercise, proper nutrition, and appropriate use of supplements.
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