Many people think of cardiovascular disease as a lifestyle or heredity-related condition. People who smoke, don’t eat healthily and don’t take enough exercise, as well as those with a family history of heart disease are the ones at risk. Men are also more susceptible than women. While these demographics are certainly more likely to contract cardiovascular disease than females, or those with a healthy lifestyle and no medical history, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Anyone can develop heart disease, and there are many factors involved in the process. For some time, it has been believed that high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone may be responsible for early deaths from cardiovascular disease. This seemed to be underlined by studies linking high doses of anabolic steroids in athletes to increased incidence of heart problems, as well as the fact that more men than women are likely to die from heart disease.
Recent studies, however, indicate that low levels of testosterone may present a greater risk than normal or higher levels. Testosterone levels naturally decrease with age, and as middle-aged and older men are generally those at higher risk of heart disease, this can be a worrying development.
It’s not as straightforward as it seems, however, because it’s possible that testosterone levels may decrease, resulting in illness, rather than that heart disease is a consequence of low testosterone levels. In effect, it’s a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Which comes first – the decrease in testosterone, or the onset of heart disease?
Recent studies in Sweden indicate that men with higher levels of testosterone enjoy better overall health, and are therefore less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. However, there seems to be no indication that prescribing supplements of testosterone will reduce the risk of heart disease and/ or reduce mortality.
The difficulty seems to reside in the fact that the studies conducted have been based on natural testosterone levels in the body, rather than taking into account the effects of testosterone supplement therapy. The point is that supplemental therapy can pose attendant risks, while natural hormone levels are just that – natural to that particular body.
Current medical thinking runs along the lines that testosterone supplement therapy that restores the normal physiological level of the hormone may be beneficial. However, if levels are boosted beyond the normal range, the risk of cardiovascular disease returns. More long term research is needed before the link between testosterone levels and cardiovascular disease can be proved one way or the other.