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Men's Health: Older men's low testosterone linked to earlier death

But researchers say it's too soon to recommend widespread hormone treatment

A study has linked low testosterone in older men with an increased risk of dying over the following 20 years, but the researchers aren’t advising that men start taking hormone supplements.

In their paper, Gail Laughlin and her colleagues with the University of California at San Diego noted there is ongoing debate over the risks and benefits of testosterone therapy for men who have low, but not clearly deficient, levels of the male hormone. For this reason, further research will be needed to confirm whether the treatment is safe and effective.

The study involved 794 men, ages 50 to 91 years, who provided blood samples during a clinic visit between 1984 and 1987. There were 538 deaths during the next 20 years. Men whose testosterone levels were in the lowest one-quarter were 40 per cent more likely to die than those with higher levels, regardless of their age, body fat, lifestyle and other risk factors.

Low testosterone predicted an increased risk of death related to heart and respiratory disease, but was not significantly related to death from cancer.

The researchers note that two previous studies did not find a link between low testosterone and mortality in relatively healthy community-dwelling men, but those men were almost 20 years younger on average than participants in their study. “The importance of low testosterone for survival may become increasingly important as men age.”