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What Are Testosterone Boosters Actually Boosting?
The cognitive boost of taking testosterone supplements has not been substantiated — but let’s face it, most men aren’t seeking a better memory when popping testosterone pills.
This past weekend I randomly stumbled into the 420 Games in a Santa Monica beach parking lot. Rows of booths displayed the latest wares emerging in the culture of cannabis capitalism. Having worked in the fitness industry for most of my adult life, I was taken aback by how many start-ups are focusing on the magical motivational powers of marijuana. Forget glaucoma, “hacking your neurochemistry to achieve flow states” is the tagline du jour.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re a nation in search of shortcuts. Anything promising quick results with little work is practically destined to trend—tiny Tibetan berries that aren’t really from Tibet, libido-boosting avocados, memory-boosting neurotransmitter precursors, how to think differently to influence the universe because, obviously, the universe needs your input.
Products targeting the ravages of aging are especially profitable. Anything, natural or not, that defies wrinkles, sags, and hair loss are always in demand. Sometimes exogenous compounds make millions, though we seem especially interested in naturally occurring hormones. If a little does a little good, well then a boatload must be even better. Enter testosterone.
First isolated in 1935, testosterone usage has tripled in the United States since 2001. The naturally occurring steroid hormone is used medically to treat diminished functional activity in the testes, as well as breast cancer, though most associate it with doping. Given its role in supposedly reinvigorating the male sex drive, the supplement is widely available.
Testosterone therapy is often self-prescribed, which creates a lot of room for error. Ignorant of dosage requirements the side effects—which include heart attack and failure, hostility, depression, and male infertility—prompted the FDA to require new labeling standards last year. Of course if you’ve got a recurring shipment on Amazon chances that you’re reading the box are slim.
New governmental studies on testosterone’s effects give us more reason to pause. As the NY Times reports:
Anyone hoping that a dose of testosterone will provide an easy antidote for sagging muscles, flagging energy and a retiring sex drive may find the results of recent government studies of the sex hormone sobering.
In a recent study, 790 men over the age of 65 were given either testosterone gel or a placebo gel over the course of a year. Each man was below average for blood testosterone levels and experienced symptoms associated with such levels, including diminished sex drive. The results were mixed.
While the therapeutic application of testosterone helps correct anemia, it appears to have no effect on cognitive functioning or improved memory. More importantly, men that received testosterone also experienced increased levels of noncalcified plaque in their coronary arteries compared to the placebo group. This does conflict with another study published last year that stated testosterone therapy reduces heart problems. The “T trials,” as they’ve been dubbed, were not long enough to measure other potential therapeutic benefits of testosterone, such as with prostate cancer or heart disease.
Let’s face it, many men aren’t seeking a better memory when popping testosterone pills. Yet only 15 per cent of men over age 65 have reduced levels in the first place. Some studies support the notion of an increased sexual drive, though, as the Times reports, “the bump was modest and waned over time.”
Testosterone didn’t help older men walk farther, they found, and it didn’t temper fatigue or increase men’s sense of vitality, though it did improve mood slightly.
None of this will stop marketers from promoting testosterone replacement therapy as a silver bullet for male virility. Bodybuilders continue to “off-label” the hormone despite the well-known history of acne and shrunken gonads associated with overuse. Those looking to recapture their younger years will also be seduced by the promise of return.
No increase in hormones is without consequences. Hackers seeking a quick-fix will be disappointed with the prescription that doctors are offering for many problems addressed by testosterone therapy: a better diet and regular exercise. There’s nothing sexy about the basics, but there’s a reason the simplest response keeps popping up—it works. Since too much of a good thing is never enough for the insatiable mind, hackers tend to pay for what they abuse.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
A physics paper proposes neither you nor the world around you are real.
- A new hypothesis says the universe self-simulates itself in a "strange loop".
- A paper from the Quantum Gravity Research institute proposes there is an underlying panconsciousness.
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More on the hypothesis and the backstory of the Quantum Gravity Research institute —<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3d6209cb3564afd37b078404e383a2a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xWEErQ_LNXY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.
- There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
- "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
- "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>