Telehealth sites promise cure for ‘male menopause’ despite FDA ban on off-label ads – Boston Herald

Michael Scaturro | KFF Health News (TNS)

Online stores sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic’s telehealth boom touting testosterone as a cure-all for men’s age-related illnesses — despite FDA rules issued years ago restricting such “low testosterone” advertising.

In ads on Google, Facebook, and elsewhere, testosterone telemedicine websites may promise a quick fix for sluggishness and low libido in men. But evidence for that is lacking, physicians said, and the midlife malaise for which testosterone is being touted as a solution is more likely caused by chronic medical conditions, poor diet, or a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, doctors urge caution— and the FDA recommends that all testosterone supplements carry a warning that they may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Valid medical reasons do exist for treating some men with testosterone. The hormone as a medication has existed for decades, and today’s patients include men with hypogonadism, some transgender men who use it to help transition physically, and, sometimes, women dealing with menopausal symptoms. It has also been used for decades by bodybuilders and athletes to enhance strength.

However, online dispensaries can overplay the idea of what is sometimes called “male menopause,” or even “manopause,” to drive sales of highly profitable testosterone-boosting injectables, often ignoring safety guidelines that should prevent healthy men from using the hormone. Some of the websites target military veterans.

“I have seen ads online that do cross the line,” said Steven Nissen, a physician and the chief academic officer for the Heart, Vascular, and Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “For mood and low energy, prescribing testosterone provides little to no benefit. They are promoting testosterone for indications that are not on the label.”

Testosterone telehealth websites almost all cite one study published in 2002 by New England Research Institutes scientists who found testosterone levels drop 1% a year in men over 40. Stefan Schlatt, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Andrology at the University of Muenster in Germany, said the data behind the statistic included older men in deteriorating health whose levels declined because of illnesses.

“Healthy men do not show a drop,” he said.

That 2002 study led to a flood of “low-T” ads on U.S. television — ads that were later banned by the FDA in a 2015 ruling that accused the pharmaceutical industry of exaggerating the low-T phenomenon to scare men into buying drugs. According to another study, the market for testosterone supplements stood at $1.85 billion in 2023.

The deluge of ads “has fueled demand for a largely uninsured product, allowing for high markups,” said Geoffrey Joyce, director of health policy at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “The primary driver is manufactured demand.”

Barbara Mintzes, a professor of evidence-based pharmaceutical policy at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre in Australia, said low testosterone should really be seen as a sign of a condition that needs to be treated. She said diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, exposure to toxic chemicals like PFAS, and stress can all reduce testosterone levels.

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