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22 February 2011Subscribe to our news feed

Norwegian study shows supplementary testosterone reduces fat and improves hip bone density in elderly men with low Testosterone levels

Image: Pelvic X-ay image

In 2008 the International Journal of Impotence Research published a Norwegian study that examined whether lower than normal levels of the hormone testosterone in elderly men (average age 69) were linked to a reduced quality of life and physical and mental health. Researchers also studied whether treatment with supplementary testosterone could improve these conditions.

Key Findings

Researchers initially compared a group of elderly men with normal testosterone levels with another group with similar characteristics but lower than normal levels of testosterone. They found that in the low testosterone group men typically had higher weight, waist circumference and body fat. They also found that whilst muscle strength was similar between the two groups, the men with normal levels of testosterone performed significantly better in two out of three special muscle functioning tests. Bone Mineral Density measured at two places in the body (the lumbar spine and hip) showed no significant difference between the two groups. They also found that the metabolic profile of elderly men with low testosterone was not as good as elderly men with normal levels of testosterone.

Men in the low testosterone group reported less satisfactory overall quality of life scores compared with the normal testosterone group even though their scores for sexual health were not significantly different. Elderly men with normal testosterone levels also reported being less depressed than the low testosterone group. However, each group was generally about as healthy as each other.

Men with low testosterone were then randomly divided into two groups and treated either with supplementary testosterone or with a placebo that appeared similar to the testosterone injection.

After one year of treatment researchers found:

  • Testosterone (T) had increased significantly in the low testosterone group
  • Weight, Body Mass Index and waist circumference did not change very much as a result of testosterone treatment. However,other fat measures did improve significantly compared with the placebo group by the end of the study:
  • BMD in the hip increased significantly in the group treated with testosterone and there was a significant difference between the two groups at the end of the study
  • Testosterone treatment did not increase handgrip strength or strength in the knee, but in the placebo group handgrip strength was reduced such that at the end of the study there were significant differences between the groups. This suggests that testosterone can maintain handgrip strength that would otherwise have declined in elderly men
  • There was was no significant difference in the quality of life scores between the groups at the end of the study.

Source: Testosterone treatment in elderly men with subnormal testosterone levels improves body composition and BMD in the hip. J Svartberg, I Agledahl, Y Figenschau, T Sildnes, K Waterloo and R Jorde. International Journal of Impotence Research. 2008:20;378–387.

Background information

Testosterone is an essential male hormone, produced in the testes, which helps to keep our minds and bodies functioning properly. In particular, testosterone enables a man to have erections and experience sexual desire (libido). It also helps to maintain:

  • Muscle strength and function
  • Healthy bones
  • Positive mood
  • Physical energy

Men with low testosterone are at increased risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome (see below)
  • Osteoporosis

Restoring testosterone levels in men (with lower testosterone levels than normal) can potentially lead to some beneficial effects. In this study of elderly men it improved bone mineral density (BMD) and so reduced the risk of osteoporosis, maintained handgrip strength, and improved fat levels.

Bone Mineral Density (BMD)
This is a measure of the strength of a bone and its ability to bear weight. Low BMD may suggest that someone has osteoporosis and has an increased risk of potentially debilitating bone fracture of the hip and spine.

Metabolic profile and Metabolic Syndrome
A metabolic profile (or panel) is a group of chemical tests performed on blood serum (the part of the blood that contains no cells); the tests provide information about your metabolism (ie the physical and chemical processes of the body). From these tests doctors can check blood sugar, calcium and cholesterol levels.

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a group of conditions linked to being overweight or obese: three or more of these conditions together is sufficient for a diagnosis of MetS. These conditions or characteristics are:

  • A large waistline
  • A higher than normal fat level in the blood – the so-called 'triglyceride level'
  • A lower than normal HDL ('good') cholesterol level
  • Higher than normal blood pressure
  • Higher than normal blood sugar

People with Metabolic syndrome are at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. It is also associated with poor sexual and personal well-being.

Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is one type of body fat measurement based on an adult’s height and weight. Whilst widely used as a guide to general wellbeing/health it does not take muscle mass into account: an increase in BMI due to an increase in muscle mass may be a positive health indicator.

Free Fat Mass (FFM)
This is a measure of a person’s body weight/mass that is devoid of fat. An increase in FFM may be an indicator of improved health and wellbeing.

Fat Mass
This, on the other hand, measures a person’s body fat (rather than muscle).

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Last updated: 2019