The television commercials for low testosterone levels, “Low-T” in shorthand, can be as common as Romney ads in Republican primary states.
Rotated more conspicuously during major sporting events like the World Series and the Super Bowl, the Low-T ads portray a harried, somewhat depressed male of uncertain middle age as bent, if not broken, by a range of woes both deeply personal and outwardly professional. These days that guy in the ad, dressed in a nondescript dark gray shirt and drab green pants that vaguely resemble the wardrobe of the average Chinese worker in the days of Mao, is something of an Everyman, struggling mightily against economic and social forces that are somehow beyond his control. It’s no wonder money and job problems might spill over into marital strife. The economy might be improving, but life can still be tough.
Cheer up, says the sympathetic voiceover, we have just the thing: A pill! How utterly American. How appealing!
But are the poor guy’s gloomy attitude, distressing body language and zapped energy, the result of a layoff, an out-of-control kid, an out-of-control life, or all three? Is it a consequence of “male menopause” or simply an aspect of normal aging? Or, is it some sort of correctable hormonal imbalance? Could this all just be part of an anti-aging craze in this country?
Make no mistake, low testosterone levels, known medically as hypogonadism, can be devastating to men and are often a precursor to serious conditions like obesity, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure and asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. As such, hypogonadism almost always requires treatment, sometimes with hormone replacement therapy or with medications through patches, gels or injections, depending upon your concern about fertility.
Against myth, hormone imbalances are not exclusively female. Men, in fact, do experience many of the same conditions as women when it comes to low hormone levels.
There is medical evidence that confirms the existence of “male menopause,” although no true consensus has been reached and the expression itself is generally not considered a medical term (Oh those Mad Men!).
- Actual Low-T cases extremely rare
But back to the diagnosis and the pill. Who doesn’t want – or need – a pick-me-up? Therein lays the undeniable appeal of Low-T products in pill form (although you might say the same about energy drinks). The problem is that according to a 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine only 2 percent of men age 40-79 actually suffer from late-onset hypogonadism, making it highly unlikely you are among the one in 50 who could enjoy quick relief.
Not unlike the Republican TV ads, the notion of Low-T appears to be just a case of smart and frequent advertising that turns heads and creates a need. After all, at least partially in response to the ads, millions of prescriptions are written to aid a condition that rarely exists.
By one estimate, hormone therapy, an area rife with charlatans, has increased an astonishing 400 percent in the U.S. since 1999, although such enormous numbers have not been observed in other countries where those snappy ads are not seen.
As in all things purchased, buyers beware. Just take a nap, read a good book or work out. You’re probably just fine.