Men who see more ads for low testosterone or “low T,” on the local television channels may be more likely to find tests or treatments to increase the levels of the hormone, a US study suggests.
Testosterone levels naturally decline with age, and some men with extremely small quantities of the hormone can be diagnosed with what is known as hypogonadism and prescribed need testosterone therapy, the researchers note in JAMA.
A lot more men taking testosterone have hypogonadism or a clear evidence of a medical problem tied to low hormone levels, however. Many of them have been convinced to seek unnecessary treatment by ads promoting “low T” as a health problem in connection with problems, such as decreased libido or fatigue, said lead study author Bradley Layton, a public health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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“The original approval for testosterone intended to be used in a very limited group of people with a very clearly defined diseases to stop the production of testosterone,” Layton said, per e-mail. “However, much of the use is recently in men with less testosterone levels or a number of non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, loss of muscle mass, reduced libido or reduced mood, which can be related to the normal aging process or other pathologies,” he said.
“There is very little evidence that testosterone would come for the people without a clear indication for it to take, and there are still unresolved safety concerns about testosterone that just not justify the widespread treatment of older men with a normal age-related reduced testosterone,” Layton added.
In 2014, the drug of the V. S. regulators raised safety concerns about the potential for testosterone to increase the risk of heart problems.
For the current study, the researchers examined the data on testosterone ad viewership, testosterone testing and requirements of the hormone from 2009 to 2013. They looked at insurance claims data, 17.2 million people in 75 different television markets across the country.
During the study, more than 1 million men were new tests for testosterone levels and more than 283,000 started treatment with testosterone, the study found.
Among the people who started taking testosterone, 59 percent used gels, and 36 percent received injections, while a small minority of them got patches or implants.
Prior to 2012, ads for “T low” were the most common form of marketing. Then, after two new products – Axiron and a more concentrated form of Androgel – debuted in 2011, ads for certain products more frequently and promotions for “low T” started to take off.
During several months of the study, there were no ads at all, while in other months, some men may see, as many as 14 ads on average.
The most concentrated advertising efforts occurred in the Southeast and in the region of the Great Lakes, the study found.
Each additional ad men saw, was associated with a 0.6 percent increase in tests and a 0.7 percent climb in new prescriptions for testosterone. There was also a 0.8 percent increase in the new rules is that is not preceded by testing it out.
Although the impact of a single advertisement is low, ads were widely and frequently during the study period, and cumulative exposure was close to 200 ads in some markets, the authors note.
The study was not a controlled experiment designed to prove that the ads have a direct influence on whether or not men get a test or treatment for low testosterone, the researchers caution. They are also used in data rules, which do not necessarily correspond to how often the men took the drugs.
Still, the findings, consumers must be on alert to be wary of ads, said Dr. Richard Kravitz, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, and author of an accompanying editorial.
“Direct-to-consumer advertising is designed to be persuasive,” Kravitz said by e-mail. “Patients can’t really avoid. The only thing they can do is think about the fact that the ads are designed primarily to increase sales, not to inform and educate the public, and they must try to make their complaints and concerns as objectively as possible to their doctor.”