A large number of trials have demonstrated a positive effect of testosterone treatment on bone mineral density (Katznelson et al 1996; Behre et al 1997; Leifke et al 1998; Snyder et al 2000; Zacharin et al 2003; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004; Aminorroaya et al 2005; Benito et al 2005) and bone architecture (Benito et al 2005). These effects are often more impressive in longer trials, which have shown that adequate replacement will lead to near normal bone density but that the full effects may take two years or more (Snyder et al 2000; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004; Aminorroaya et al 2005). Three randomized placebo-controlled trials of testosterone treatment in aging males have been conducted (Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2001; Amory et al 2004). One of these studies concerned men with a mean age of 71 years with two serum testosterone levels less than 12.1nmol/l. After 36 months of intramuscular testosterone treatment or placebo, there were significant increases in vertebral and hip bone mineral density. In this study, there was also a significant decrease in the bone resorption marker urinary deoxypyridinoline with testosterone treatment (Amory et al 2004). The second study contained men with low bioavailable testosterone levels and an average age of 76 years. Testosterone treatment in the form of transdermal patches was given for 1 year. During this trial there was a significant preservation of hip bone mineral density with testosterone treatment but testosterone had no effect on bone mineral density at other sites including the vertebrae. There were no significant alterations in bone turnover markers during testosterone treatment (Kenny et al 2001). The remaining study contained men of average age 73 years. Men were eligible for the study if their serum total testosterone levels were less than 16.5 nmol/L, meaning that the study contained men who would usually be considered eugonadal. The beneficial effects of testosterone on bone density were confined to the men who had lower serum testosterone levels at baseline and were seen only in the vertebrae. There were no significant changes in bone turnover markers. Testosterone in the trial was given via scrotal patches for a 36 month duration (Snyder et al 1999). A recent meta-analysis of the effects on bone density of testosterone treatment in men included data from these studies and two other randomized controlled trials. The findings were that testosterone produces a significant increase of 2.7% in the bone mineral density at the lumber spine but no overall change at the hip (Isidori et al 2005). These results from randomized controlled trials in aging men show much smaller benefits of testosterone treatment on bone density than have been seen in other trials. This could be due to the trials including patients who are not hypogonadal and being too short to allow for the maximal effects of testosterone. The meta-analysis also assessed the data concerning changes of bone formation and resorption markers during testosterone treatment. There was a significant decrease in bone resorption markers but no change in markers of bone formation suggesting that reduction of bone resorption may be the primary mode of action of testosterone in improving bone density (Isidori et al 2005).
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Ashwagandha is sometimes included in testosterone supplements because of the hypothesis that it improves fertility. However, we couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support this claim (at best, one study found that ashwagandha might improve cardiorespiratory endurance). WebMD advocates caution when taking this herb, as it may interact with immunosuppressants, sedative medications, and thyroid hormone medications.
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Testosterone levels generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood. As you get older, your testosterone level gradually declines — typically about 1 percent a year after age 30 or 40. It is important to determine in older men if a low testosterone level is simply due to the decline of normal aging or if it is due to a disease (hypogonadism).