Testosterone and Heart Disease: What You Should Know
Testosterone is a hormone that has major effects on a man’s sexuality and appearance. But how it affects your heart is still a confusing and controversial issue. Do testosterone and heart disease impact one another?
If you’re considering treatment for low testosterone (low T), it’s important to know the effects that such treatment will cause. But first, here are some of the reasons why testosterone’s effect on the heart is confusing:
- Some research has found that low T is bad for your heart
- Other studies have found that high testosterone (high T) is bad for your heart
- More recent research has indicated that testosterone replacement might make you more prone to have a heart attack
What is Testosterone?
What is this confusing thing? Testosterone is a hormone that is found in humans and other animals. In men, testosterone is made primarily by the testicles. Women’s ovaries also make testosterone but in much lower amounts.
Testosterone is an androgen, which means that it stimulates the development of male characteristics. It is usually associated with sex drive and has an important role in:
- the production of sperm
- bone and muscle mass
- the way men store fat in the body
- red blood cell production
The production of testosterone increases substantially during puberty and begins to drop after about age 30.
How Does Testosterone Affect Cardiovascular Function?
Cardiovascular function refers to the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. Low testosterone levels have been associated with several cardiac risk factors. But that doesn’t prove that low levels actually cause heart disease. However, if testosterone therapy could help men with heart disease, it would support the theory that testosterone may be safe for the heart. But only a few short-term studies have been published and the results provide mixed approval for this theory.
Heart muscle cells and blood vessels have receptors that latch on to testosterone. Men who go through androgen-deprivation therapy develop unusually stiff arteries. For men who have atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries characterized by the buildup of plaques of fatty material on the walls of the artery) and normal testosterone levels, short-term treatment with testosterone improves the response of the blood vessels and the blood flow.
Since testosterone helps blood vessels widen, it might be able to improve angina (a type of chest pain caused by a reduced flow of blood to the heart) in men with coronary artery disease. A study in 2000 evaluated men with stable angina and low-normal blood testosterone levels. They were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of treatment with either a testosterone patch or a placebo.
Each man was subjected to an exercise stress test before and after treatment. The men on testosterone showed improved exercise tolerance and the end of the study compared to the men on the placebo. However, the difference was small–about 26 seconds.
A similar study in 2004 compared testosterone injections with placebo in several men with angina and low T. After one month of treatment there was a 74-second gain in exercise tolerance. Likewise, in another trial, 20 men with heart failure were given injections or a placebo. After 12 weeks testosterone produced a 33% increase in the distance the men were able to walk along with a decrease in their symptoms.
A study in 2008 used an oral testosterone preparation or placebo. It was administered to 22 men with coronary artery disease and low T. The therapy caused a slight increase in blood flow to the heart muscle by widening healthy, but not the partially blocked arteries. Testosterone also promoted heart muscle contractions. However, it didn’t have any effect on the pain of angina.
What Are Signs of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)?
Cardiovascular disease is now the most common cause of death in the world. Yet there are many ways to reduce the risk of developing these conditions. There are many treatment options also available. CVD includes many different types of conditions. Some might develop at the same time or lead to other conditions. Symptoms will depend on the specific condition.
Nevertheless, typical symptoms of a cardiovascular issue include:
- Chest pains or pressure (may indicate angina)
- Discomfort or pain in the arms, left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and nausea
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Cold sweats
Why is Low T Bad for Your Heart?
When your testosterone levels get low it can cause weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes. Excess weight and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease. Doctors have been using testosterone replacement therapy to treat low T since the 1950s, but in recent years, the treatment has become more common. Recently though, large studies have begun looking at the link between testosterone and heart disease. Many of these studies indicate that older men with low T are at a higher risk of heart disease.
Symptoms of Low T
Low T levels in men can cause several symptoms in men including:
- Less sex drive
- Less energy
- Weight gain
- Low self-esteem
- Less body hair
- Thinner bones
Although testosterone production tapers off naturally as a man gets older, there are other factors that can cause hormone levels to drop. These factors include:
- Injury to the testicles
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation
- Chronic stress
- Kidney disease
- Cirrhosis of the liver
Symptoms of low T in women include:
- Low libido
- Decreased bone strength
- Poor concentration
Low T in women may be caused by the removal of the ovaries and diseases of the pituitary, hypothalamus, or adrenal glands. Testosterone therapy may be prescribed for women with low T but the effectiveness on improving sexual function or cognitive function for postmenopausal women is still not clear.
Why High T May Be Bad for Your Heart
On the other hand, before there were any large studies, doctors thought that high T might be bad for your heart health. Thus, they thought that high testosterone and heart disease went together. This is why:
- Testosterone could be the reason men have more and earlier heart disease than women who make much less testosterone than men
- Studies on animals revealed that animals given testosterone developed heart disease
- In high doses, testosterone raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers good cholesterol (HDL). LDL increases the risk of heart disease but HDL protects the heart against heart disease
- Athletes who abuse testosterone appear to be in peak physical condition but they have a higher risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.
The FDA is still investigating whether testosterone increases the risk of stroke or heart attack. There is no final ruling as yet. For now, men and their doctors are urged to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of testosterone treatment. The FDA also reminds doctors that the only FDA-approved use for testosterone therapy is to treat men who have medical conditions that cause low T.
Unusually high testosterone levels can be a problem for both men and women. Normal amounts of testosterone are necessary for health, but too much can cause several problems including:
- Fertility problems
- Increased risk of certain cancers
Symptoms of High T
High testosterone levels in men may cause these conditions:
- Risky or aggressive behaviors
- Heart or liver problems
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High sex drive
- Increased appetite
- Low sperm count
- Enlarged prostate
- Swelling in legs and feet
- Unexplained weight gain
Signs of high T in women include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Thickened, darkened skin
- Voice deepens
- Enlarged clitoris
- Excess body and facial hair
- Irregular periods
- Loss of libido
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain
Determining Your Testosterone Levels
Testosterone levels can be determined through a simple blood test. There is a wide range of normal or healthy testosterone levels circulating in your bloodstream. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, normal male testosterone levels are between 280 and 1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) for adult males. For adult females, it is between 15 and 70 ng/dL.
The ranges can differ among labs so it’s important to talk to your healthcare professional about your results. The American Urological Association submits that If an adult male’s testosterone levels are below 300ng/dL you may want to have a workup to find out the cause of the low levels.
Low testosterone levels could be a symptom of pituitary gland problems. The pituitary gland is responsible for sending a signaling hormone to the testicles to produce more testosterone.
However, a young teen with low T levels might be going through delayed puberty. Somewhat higher testosterone levels in men may produce few noticeable symptoms, but boys with high levels may begin puberty earlier. Women with high testosterone may develop masculine features.
The Bottom Line on Testosterone and Heart
Testosterone is a lot more than its reputation would imply. Both men and women need the correct amount of testosterone to develop and function normally. Still, the best amount of testosterone is not clear.
Having your testosterone levels checked is as easy as having a blood test. The only difficult part is interpreting the results. Your levels can vary throughout the day so a single low level might be meaningless if you have no symptoms. Especially if it was normal at another test. More research is needed to know when the best time to measure testosterone is and the best way to respond to the results.
Androgenix Could Be Your Solution
Do you recognize some of the symptoms above? Are you concerned or just plain confused? It’s perfectly normal to feel that way. At Androgenix Advanced Health and Wellness Center, we can help you learn about what’s happening with you and what we can do to help. Then we will stand by you through the entire process.
We want you to meet your long-term goals, not just for a day or two. Contact us today. Let’s talk about your issues and goals and how we may be able to help you.
*Unless otherwise stated, individual results may vary depending on many factors not all patients “feel” or achieve the same results.