Treating Low T with Supplements? Think Again.

Jan 16, 2015

testosterone replacement therapy in Tysons Corner 

Low testosterone is a drag. When a man’s testicles stop producing adequate amounts of the stuff, he’s got testosterone-deficiency syndrome (TDS), which brings with it a host of problems: fatigue, dysphoria, sexual dysfunction, increased body fat and difficulty building muscle mass.

Today, testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) is the sole legitimate medical treatment for TDS. It’s blossomed into a billion-dollar industry — so it’s no surprise that it’s also plagued by a large number of charlatans and quacks.

Many supplement companies and “health-food entrepreneurs” are in truth mainly in the business of misinformation and false advertising, seeking to capitalize on men’s anxiety and (understandable) ignorance of the medical specifics underlying low T.

Natural is, undeniably, a pleasant word, especially for people seeking medical treatment for this or that. It sounds so wholesome! Medical, by contrast, is so clinical: fluorescent white lights, cold steel instruments, the snap of latex gloves.

Thus many patients diagnosed with TDS search first for “natural” remedies, presumably because they regard them as safer. Nothing seems more unnatural, after all, than a drug with a gobbledygook name being pushed by a physician in a lab coat. With TRT, though, “natural” is without fail a synonym for “a waste of time and money.”

No “natural” product — which in any case has been processed into capsule form by who knows what means long before it reaches your local vitamin store — contains actual testosterone; the FDA doesn’t allow it. Some products claim to “modulate” a man’s levels by raising his free testosterone (that is, testosterone that isn’t bound to a sex-hormone protein) or blocking its conversion into estrogen. These boasts are largely unfounded.

Likewise the breathless claims of cheap over-the-counter potions that say they’ll raise your T, boost your sexual function and increase your muscle mass: None are the result of legitimate medical science or peer-reviewed research. A study published randomly online or in The Journal of Obscure Scientific Nonsense confers no legitimacy.

Indeed, nothing sold over the counter is regulated by the FDA. In essence, all such products need to do to gain shelf space is not kill you. If they don’t put you in a coma or in the grave, they can claim pretty much anything. And they’re less than ineffective as a treatment for low T.

I’ve seen dozens of patients who asked me to check their testosterone, then return for another measurement with the news that they’ve been using an over-the-counter testosterone booster in the interim and feel great. I generally give them a quick lesson in the placebo effect. Have I ever witnessed a clinically significant testosterone increase under these conditions? Not once.

Testosterone-replacement therapy is a wonderful option when prescribed by a urologist or endocrinologist. Some symptoms can be alleviated or improved without drugs, and I’m all for that. Men can also boost their testosterone through truly natural means such as better sleep, lower body fat and reduced stress.

In the end, though, most men with low T will be able to restore their levels only through good old-fashioned synthetic testosterone. Natural isn’t always preferable, and “natural” supplements and other hocus-pocus palliatives never are. Plagued by low T? Go to a medical specialist, not the grocery store.