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Testosterone Supplements: Do They Really Work? [New Study Data]

If you pay attention to pop culture instead of science, whether or not you get an erection all boils down to one hormone — testosterone. And testosterone functions like gas in a tank, so if you top up your testosterone, all your problems with erectile dysfunction are solved, right? Turns out, not so much. Here’s what you need to know about testosterone, supplements, and ED.

Testosterone: What You Need To Know

  • Testosterone is a hormone, present in everyone to some degree but at higher levels in men of all ages.
  • In adult men, testosterone’s primary role is in sperm development and gaining and keeping muscle.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you do not steadily lose testosterone as you age. Around age 40, you reach a floor of testosterone that you don’t drop below. However, your levels of testosterone can fluctuate more  as you age.
  • Doctors may prescribe testosterone supplements for osteoporosis or hypogonadism but not for erectile dysfunction. In fact, research is increasingly finding that testosterone supplements have little to no effect on ED. That’s because erections are caused by blood flow to the penis. Low testosterone is actually one of the rarest causes of ED.

The Myth of Testosterone And ED

Why do people believe testosterone supplements treat ED? It’s a misunderstanding of an actual medical use of testosterone — to treat hypogonadism. Hypogonadism can affect both men and women and means that the testicles or ovaries are not producing enough sex hormones. There are a number of ways this can happen, including:

  • Infections such as mumps
  • Defects in glands such as the hypothalamus and pituitary
  • A genetic lack of hormone response
  • As a symptom of other illnesses such as diabetes or substance abuse

Hypogonadism can happen to men as they age. However, the key sexual symptom is not a lack of an ability to get an erection; it’s a lack of sex drive. In fact, people who are put on testosterone supplements for other reasons are generally warned that they may be surprised by the effects on their sexual desire.

This underscores an important point: Your sexual health is not just a matter of hydraulics but your physical and emotional health as well.

Couple sitting separately.

Concerns about sex shouldn’t start with hormones

Should I Take Testosterone Supplements?

Legitimate testosterone supplements are available, but they should only be prescribed by a doctor. Manufacturers of supplements that claim to boost your testosterone levels aren’t required to put their claims to scientific testing because the F.D.A. doesn’t regulate over-the-counter supplements. Most likely don’t work in the first place. They may even be actively harmful.

A January 2020 study published in “The World Journal of Men’s Health” reviewed the ingredients in the first 50 supplements that came up in a Google search. Of the 50 products, 90 percent claimed to boost testosterone and 50 percent to increase low libido. The researchers found that only 25 percent of these supplements had scientific data to prove their claims.

The study authors also found very high levels of certain vitamins and minerals in many of them. In some cases, these levels were high enough to be harmful.

So if you’re concerned about testosterone, skip the supplements. Instead, take the following steps:

  • Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Be honest about any problems you’re experiencing and when they started.
  • Discuss a lifestyle and emotional health plan with your doctor. ED can often be an early warning sign for other conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, or mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety.
  • Ask your doctor, and educate yourself about ED medication, how it works, and how it can help. There are multiple highly effective medications that can be part of your sexual health plan.

The best way to protect your sexual function is to be informed and to make the right decisions. If you’re looking for help for erectile dysfunction, testosterone supplementation is not the answer. Learn about F.D.A.-approved lifestyle medications that work, such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, at eDrugstore.

Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies "beyond the headlines," reading the study to more closely examine the results.