October 26, 2011 – Older men whose bodies produce higher levels of testosterone may be protected against heart attacks and strokes, new medical research suggests.
According to the study of 2,400 Swedish men in their 70s and 80s, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, high-yet-normal testosterone level in elderly men may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping to increase lean body mass and decrease body fat and cholesterol, while also helping the body to control blood-sugar levels.
As summarized by Asa Tivesten, M.D., a well-known testosterone researcher and leader of the study at Sahlgrenska University in Goteborg, Sweden:
"...Elderly men with high testosterone levels are relatively protected against cardiovascular events..."
Further, the study shows that lower testosterone is a marker for higher cardiovascular risk, according to Tivesten.
The research findings indicate that elderly men with the highest testosterone levels were less likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes than men whose testosterone levels were the lowest.
However, this study does not prove that testosterone by itself leads to improved outcomes, since medical researchers already know that many different health conditions can lower the body's testosterone level, including obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, or prior history of heart disease or stroke.
As revealed by the data in the study, of the approximately 600 men with testosterone levels in the bottom quarter of the study group, 21 percent suffered a cardiovascular health problem such as a heart attack, serious chest pain or stroke within the five-year period of the study. In contrast, of the approximately 600 men with the highest testosterone levels, only about 16 percent experienced such problems.
The researchers also found that after adjusting the numbers to account for overall health conditions, those men with high testosterone still benefited from a 30 percent lower risk of cardiac disease and stroke.
It may be premature to suggest testosterone replacement alone as a treatment or preventive measure against cardiac risks. The results from this study do not mean that testosterone is responsible for improving cardiac health by itself, since it is possible that other factors may be involved, according to Joann E. Manson, M.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who said, "Low testosterone may be a marker of other health conditions that put men at higher risk of cardiovascular disease."
She indicated that evidence is needed from more clinical trials, in order to determine whether testosterone replacement reduces cardiovascular risks in older men, or whether it ultimately increases lifespan.
There is reason to be cautious. In the 1980s, a large clinical trial found that then-current hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women often led to worse outcomes, greatly limiting the value of such therapies. Medical professionals are concerned about the potential for similar issues in men, since hormone therapy may lead to blood clots, liver cirrhosis, and other problems.
Doctors are hopeful that these recent research findings will lead to significant advances in treatment and therapy for a range of ailments, as medical researchers continue to explore the role that testosterone plays in men's cardiovascular health.
For more information: http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/abstract/58/16/1674