The fight to keep our edge. The drive to win in the boardroom and the bedroom, fueled by the hormone testosterone. NewsChannel 3's Kurt Williams sets out to explore low testosterone and the therapy that's giving some men their edge back.
Rob Pittman of Virginia Beach had lost his edge, "I was depressed---I got depressed. My family saw it."
Pittman finally went to see his doctor because it was affecting his marriage.
"My wife noticed it. she brought it up first. She said, 'Why are you not interest--why are you not interested anymore?' I was having trouble with erections."
It wasn't just that. Pittman says his energy level was horrible.
Commercials about low testosterone have clearly raised awareness. Since they've been airing, Dr. Trey Brugh with Urology of Virginia has seen a spike in traffic.
"A lot of these guys are looking to get treated. It's interesting, because of what they hear on TV and they say, 'Oh wow, look I can get better with this stuff.' It drives them in and so I see a lot of men who come in and say, 'I've got low testosterone.' I mean they're certain they've got low testosterone before they even hit the door," he says.
They are desperate for treatment.
"I tell them it's not the fountain of youth. Yes, some symptoms can get better for many men, but it's not going to make you 21 again," says Dr. Brugh.
What are the symptoms?
Dr. Brugh says, "The main thing they will complain of will be a decrease in the libido-- their sex drive and they will complain about erectile quality. Some of them will also notice a decrease in mood, fatigue, less stamina....some people will get cranky, yes and irritable yes. I've had many men actually say that their wives noticed when their testosterone is low."
What exactly is "Low T?"
Dr. Brugh says "Low T" is actually a term coined by the pharmaceutical industry. The medical community calls it male hypogonadism. "So hypo meaning low--- gonadism meaning gonads." The bottom line is, the body is not producing enough testosterone. The doctor adds, "Testosterone levels actually start to fall for guys in their 30's believe it or not, decreasing about one percent every year."
I asked Dr. Brush if it's like male menopause?
"So yes, it is--- people think of it like that and it happens as men age."
Testosterone levels are checked with a simple blood test. A normal testosterone level ranges from 300 to 800.
"So I got tested and it was low---very low," Pittman says.
For men like Pittman with low numbers, there are a number of treatment options, with topical gels that you can rub on your shoulders being the most popular.
"I feel like the guy I used to be when I was in my 40's and 50's. And my wife, my wife is tickled to death," Pittman says with a chuckle. He says his sex drive has definitely returned.
But, what about some studies raising health concerns, including the increased risk of heart attacks? Dr. Brugh points out that there are multiple studies with various conflicting conclusions.
"There are actually two studies that show maybe an improvement in cardiovascular risks from men using testosterone replacement therapy and there's another one that shows no change at all. So no increase or decrease in cardiac risks," Dr. Brugh says.
But the doctor is quick to add that this treatment can be abused.
"So this really gets my attention when men come in, in their 20's, 30's and even early 40's and say 'Geez I have a low testosterone and I need to be treated.' The bottom line is, we don't recommend even checking unless guys have symptoms. So if you don't have symptoms of low testosterone please don't get your testosterone checked," he says.
Because for men still planning on having children, Dr. Brugh says there is this side effect of receiving testosterone replacement therapy.
"They've been trying to conceive and they find they can't conceive. They're infertile. Testosterone actually has a contraceptive effect and most guys don't realize that and they think, oh wow more testosterone, I'm going to be more fertile."
It's actually just the opposite, but Dr. Brugh says it is normally a temporary side effect. Once the therapy is stopped, over time, fertility returns.
For the purpose of this story, NewsChannel 3's Kurt Williams, at age 54, wanted to demonstrate the low testosterone test.
A few days after getting his blood drawn, he returned to Dr. Brugh's office to meet with him and find out what his test results mean.
"So your number, your testosterone was 474. Well, in the normal range," Dr. Brugh said.
And the doctor stressed again, he is against doing the test unless there are symptoms. He does not advise men to get a random testosterone test along with their annual physical, which might include getting their cholesterol or their PSA, which screens for the potential of prostate cancer. He's quite emphatic---wait until there are symptoms, because he says, some men might actually have a low testosterone score but NOT have any symptoms, so there's no benefit to the test.
But for men like Pittman, getting tested and the treatment has had a tremendous impact on his quality of life.
"And I certainly don't deal with the kind of depression that I used to, with feeling bad about myself and just feeling I didn't have the zest for life anymore. It feels great. It does. I love it and I want to stay that way," Pittman says.
And in order for him to keep that feeling, he must continue the therapy. Low testosterone is not something that is cured.