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Study Questions Link Between Low Testosterone and Heart Disease

Update Date: Sep 24, 2013 04:08 PM EDT

Having low levels of testosterone may not significantly increase the risk of heart disease in men, a new study suggests.

Low levels of testosterone, the key male sex hormone that helps maintain libido, sperm production and bone health, has previously been linked to an increase in body fat, loss of body hair and muscle bulk.

The latest research reviewed data from previous studies and found a "modest connection" between testosterone levels and cardiovascular disease.

"A specific pathogenesis did not come forward, but perhaps less frequently investigated events may play a role, such as thrombosis where a blood clot develops in the circulatory system or arrhythmia, where there is a problem with the heart beat or rate," lead author Dr. Johannes Ruige, MD, PhD, of Ghent University Hospital in Belgium, said in a news release.

"Based on current findings, though, we cannot rule out that low testosterone and heart disease both result from poor overall health," he added.

Ruige and his team reviewed data from studies on cardiovascular disease and testosterone published between 1970 and 2013.

While previous studies linked low testosterone to artherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes, researchers in the latest study found little evidence of this connection. The study also found no relationship between testosterone levels and heart attacks.

However, researchers noted that because the studies included in the review did not completely rule out some potential preceding causes of both low testosterone and cardiovascular disease, more research is needed to confirm the relationship between the two conditions.

"Gaps still remain in our understanding of low testosterone and cardiovascular disease," Ruige said. "Ultimately, the goal is to more accurately assess the impact testosterone substitution therapy may have on the heart health of men who qualify for the treatment."

Ruige and his team found that treating low testosterone with replacement therapy did not help prevent cardiovascular disease. The findings are important because an increasing number of older and middle-aged men are being prescribed testosterone replacement therapy.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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