Testosterone Supplements for Men? Not Always Your Best Option
Everyone has seen the flashy new ads promising men improved good health and “performance” if they take testosterone supplements. Unfortunately, these supplements may have a negative effect if you are trying to conceive a child with your partner.
Testosterone is a hormone that is made in the male testes. During puberty, testosterone is responsible for the growth and development of male sexual characteristics. Once a male is physically mature, testosterone is then required to make sperm. It is also important for sex drive (libido), sexual function, mood, energy, bone strength, muscle mass, fat distribution, and facial hair.
The amount of testosterone produced by the testes is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, as well as other hormones in the body. The testes are made up of 3 major cell types: one that produces testosterone, one that helps sperm mature, and one that becomes an actual mature sperm. The cell that helps the sperm mature needs high levels of testosterone in the testes to perform their job correctly.
In healthy men, testosterone levels should be between 300 ng/dL and 1000 ng/dl. Testosterone levels may be lower than normal for several reasons. The majority of problems originate from the cells that produce testosterone not functioning correctly or the pituitary gland not producing the correct amount of the hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH), which helps to stimulate testosterone production.
Low Testosterone can cause hypogonadism (low functioning testes), which has symptoms including fatigue, decreased energy, reduced sexual drive (libido), depressed mood and loss of body hair. Erecti le dysfunction, increased body fat, reduced muscle mass and reduced strength may also be symptoms. Physicians may treat men with testosterone supplements, which can improve these symptoms.
Some men may have medical conditions that increase their chances of having low testosterone which may include: severe kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and osteoporosis. Always talk to a physician before taking any type of testosterone supplement.
Infertility, in men, may be a sign of low testosterone. However, taking testosterone supplements decrease male fertility. Men become less fertile instead of increasing their fertility. It is similar to a women taking birth control pills and having trouble getting pregnant. Men should keep in mind that taking testosterone supplements is not to be utilized as a form of birth control; since some sperm may still be present.
There are treatments available for men who have low testosterone and are experiencing infertility. Physicians may prescribe clomiphene citrate, or injectable follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), to increase sperm production. These treatments only are effective if there are no issues involving hormone production or sperm production in the testes themselves. Believe it or not, it takes 3 months for sperm to develop, so it may be 3-6 months before men may see any improvement in their sperm count after beginning to take these medications.
Men who take testosterone supplementation should take extra care that women and children are not exposed to testosterone. Women, who are exposed to testosterone, may have increased hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen, acne and experience infertility. Children, who are exposed to testosterone, may have the same symptoms as women, as well as experiencing symptoms of early puberty.
For men experiencing symptoms of low testosterone but not trying to conceive a child, testosterone supplements may be helpful. However, this type of supplement should be avoided if he is interested in achieving pregnancy with his partner.
No matter what the situation, if a man is trying to create his family or feels that testosterone supplements may help him, a physician should always be consulted. This is the best way for him to ensure that he will achieve the result he was hoping for.
WENDY SCHILLIGNS, MD, FACOG
Dr. Schillings is a board certified reproductive endocrinologist, obstetrician and gynecologist. She leads all aspects of patient care at RMAPA. In addition, she formerly led the medical team at RE & I Specialist with the Lehigh Valley Physician Group. Dr. Schillings is chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Lehigh Valley Hospital Health Network and Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Penn State College of Medicine.