Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.
Nicola Davis Benedict Cumberbatch’s deep and booming voice might have made him a hit among women, but a low pitch is more likely to have evolved to intimidate other men, new research suggests. When both heterosexual men and women were played recordings of male voices, the deeper tones were hailed by men as sounding more dominant. While the deeper voices were judged to be more attractive by female listeners, the effect was weaker, the researchers report. “If you look at what men’s traits look like they are designed for, they look much better designed for intimidating other males than for attracting females,” said David Puts of Pennsylvania State University, who led the study. Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the three-part study by an international team of scientists explored the links between voice pitch and mating systems, attractiveness and, for males only, perceived dominance. A formula for the perfect voice? Read more In the first leg of the research, the scientists turned their attention to primates encompassing Old and New World monkeys, as well as humans and other apes, to explore differences in “fundamental frequency” between males and females of each species - the aspect of the voice that is perceived as pitch. After selecting 1721 recordings, they found large differences were more common in polygynous species - where males mate with more than one female - than monogamous ones. That, they say, could be because in polygynous species, competition between males is greater - hence a male with a lower-pitched voice deemed to be intimidating could have the edge in securing a mate. Intriguingly, the researchers found that among the apes humans showed the greatest difference in pitch between the sexes, suggesting our ancestors were not searching for “the one” but were polygynous - a situation Puts still believes to be the case. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
By Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D Why is it that girls tend to be more anxious than boys? It may start with how they feel about how they look. Some research has shown that in adolescence, girls tend to become more dissatisfied with their bodies, whereas boys tend to become more satisfied with their bodies. Another factor has to do with differences in how girls and boys use social media. A girl is much more likely than a boy to post a photo of herself wearing a swimsuit, while the boy is more likely to post a photo where the emphasis is on something he has done rather than on how he looks. If you don’t like Jake’s selfie showing off his big trophy, he may not care. But if you don’t like Sonya’s photo of herself wearing her bikini, she’s more likely to take it personally. Imagine another girl sitting in her bedroom, alone. She’s scrolling through other girls’ Instagram and Snapchat feeds. She sees Sonya showing off her new bikini; Sonya looks awesome. She sees Madison at a party, having a blast. She sees Vanessa with her adorable new puppy. And she thinks: I’m just sitting here in my bedroom, not doing anything. My life sucks. Boys are at lower risk for the toxic effects of social media than girls are, for at least three reasons. First, boys are less likely to be heavily invested in what you think of their selfies. “Does this swimsuit make me look fat?” is a question asked by girls more often than by boys. Second, boys tend to overestimate how interesting their own life is. Third, the average boy is likely to spend more time playing video games than Photoshopping his selfie for Instagram. And in video games, unlike social media, everybody truly can be a winner, eventually. If you play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty long enough, you will, sooner or later, complete all the missions, if you just keep at it. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Patrick Monahan You might have seen a video from David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds series where a male superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) attempts to lure a mate by imitating a smorgasbord of bird calls and even chainsaws. As nature’s show-offs, male animals tend to have more elaborate colors and courtship behaviors than their female counterparts, so it’s typical that the male would get the public’s attention. The same is true in science: Plenty of female birds sing songs, but researchers have in the past often dismissed them as simply being evolutionary tag-alongs of the males’ “come hither” calls. Now, by recording the calls of female superb lyrebirds, researchers have found that they can keep up with the boys just fine. According to a study published this week in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the females collectively imitated 19 other species of birds, and also sang lyrebird-specific songs. And they changed their songs depending on context, using more lyrebird-specific “whistle” calls when out foraging and vying for territory, but more mimicking calls when defending their nests (as in the audio file below). The fact that the females change their type of call depending on the context makes it likely that these songs evolved in their own right—and the males’ calls aren’t so special after all. Plus, that part about the chainsaw? It probably doesn’t even happen in the wild. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Medical research and new drugs to treat human illness usually start with studies on mice and rats. But that type of research has been traditionally sexist — using far more male than female rodents. Scientists warn that has already led to drugs and treatments that are potentially dangerous for women and say the approach slows down the development of treatments and drugs that are safe and effective for everyone. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, cited a couple of examples on CBC's The Current of cases where drug side-effects turned out to be far more harmful in women: A stomach drug called cisapride that was sold in the 1990s under the name Prepulsid was withdrawn by Health Canada in 2000 because it sometimes caused irregular heartbeat and sudden death "in women only," Tannenbaum said. Among the victims was the 15-year-old daughter of former Ontario MP Terence Young. "It's not clear that the drug was ever tested in female animals or minors," Tannenbaum added. Health Canada has issued a warning about sleeping pills containing the drug zolpiclone, also known as Ambien, Tannenbaum said. Women are recommended to take half the dose that is prescribed to men. "It was recently discovered that the level of the drug was 45 per cent higher in women the next day, which can lead to car accidents," Tannenbaum said. Jeffrey Mogil, a neuroscientist and pain specialist at McGill University, said there are lots of reasons to suspect men and women respond differently to many different kinds of drugs, but very little actual data. "We actually don't know the scope of the problem," he told The Current. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Ian Sample Science editor The subtle impact of genetics on the age at which people lose their virginity has been teased apart by scientists and shown to have an effect on how well people fare at school. Though mostly driven by upbringing and peer behaviour, a person’s age when they first have sex is also shaped by biological factors where genes have a role to play. Researchers found that differences in DNA could account for a quarter of the variation in the age at which people lost their virginity, with other factors, among them religious beliefs, family background and peer pressure, making up the rest. Genes influence academic ability across all subjects, latest study shows Read more “We were able to calculate for the first time that there is a heritable component to age at first sex, and the heritability is about 25%, so one quarter nature, three quarters nurture,” said John Perry, an expert in reproductive ageing and related health conditions at Cambridge University. Among 38 sections of DNA found to affect the age at which people first had sex were genes that drive reproductive biology, such as the release of sex hormones and the age of puberty. Still others were found that appear to affect behaviour, personality and appearance. A variant of one of the genes, named CADM2, linked an early start to one’s sex life with risk-taking behaviour and having a large number of children. A version of another gene, MSRA, found in people who lost their virginity later than average, was linked to irritability. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
Scientists have outwitted the crafty rat with a stimulating new formula that puts sex on the brain. A team at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., has developed a rat trap that combines synthetic sex pheromones, food scents and baby rat sounds to lure rodents to their deaths. The bait has proven 10 times more powerful than traditional traps and could be commercialized in about two years, said principal investigator Gerhard Gries. "Rats are really intelligent, and in order to manipulate them you have to be intelligent as well, and do that in a way that addresses their needs," said Gries, a communication ecologist in the department of biological sciences. "It smells delicious, it smells like rat and it sounds like rat." Research outlining the pheromone component of the control tactic was published last week in the international edition of the German peer-reviewed online journal Angewandte Chemie, which translates to "Applied Chemistry." The research on the use of baby rat sounds was published recently in the journal Pest Management Science. Gries worked for several years with research associates Stephen Takacs and Regine Gries, his wife, to develop the three-pronged extermination technique. Humans have waged war against the pests for more than 10,000 years, said Gerhard Gries, noting they spread disease, reduce agricultural crop yields and threaten endangered animal species. But rats are quick learners that have evolved to avoid traps, a behaviour called "neophobia," he said. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
By Nicholas Bakalar Hormone therapy for prostate cancer may increase the risk for depression, a new analysis has found. Hormone therapy, or androgen deprivation therapy, a widely used prostate cancer treatment, aims to reduce levels of testosterone and other male hormones, which helps limit the spread of prostate cancer cells. From 1992 to 2006, researchers studied 78,552 prostate cancer patients older than 65, of whom 33,382 had hormone therapy. Compared with those treated with other therapies, men who received androgen deprivation therapy were 23 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of depression, and they had a 29 percent increased risk of having inpatient psychiatric treatment. Longer hormone treatment increased the risk: Researchers found a 12 percent increased relative risk with six or fewer months of treatment, a 26 percent increased risk with seven to 11 months, and a 37 percent increased risk with a year or more. The study, in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, is observational, and does not prove causation. The senior author, Dr. Paul L. Nguyen, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that research is finding “almost an avalanche of side effects” with hormone therapy. Still, for some patients, especially those with severe disease, it can be a life saver. “You have to know what the potential upside is. For some guys it will still be worth it, but for some not.” © 2016 The New York Times Company
Carl Zimmer Five days a week, you can tune into “Paternity Court,” a television show featuring couples embroiled in disputes over fatherhood. It’s entertainment with a very old theme: Uncertainty over paternity goes back a long way in literature. Even Shakespeare and Chaucer cracked wise about cuckolds, who were often depicted wearing horns. But in a number of recent studies, researchers have found that our obsession with cuckolded fathers is seriously overblown. A number of recent genetic studies challenge the notion that mistaken paternity is commonplace. “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Maarten H.D. Larmuseau, a geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who has led much of this new research. The term cuckold traditionally refers to the husband of an adulteress, but Dr. Larmuseau and other researchers focus on those cases that produce a child, which scientists politely call “extra-pair paternity.” Until the 20th century, it was difficult to prove that a particular man was the biological father of a particular child. In 1304 a British husband went to court to dispute the paternity of his wife’s child, born while he was abroad for three years. Despite the obvious logistical challenges, the court rejected the husband’s objection. “The privity between a man and his wife cannot be known,” the judge ruled. Modern biology lifted the veil from this mystery, albeit slowly. In the early 1900s, researchers discovered that people have distinct blood types inherited from their parents. In a 1943 lawsuit, Charlie Chaplin relied on blood-type testing to prove that he was not the father of the actress Joan Barry’s child. (The court refused to accept the evidence and forced Chaplin to pay child support anyway.) © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22089 - Posted: 04.09.2016
Modern humans diverged from Neanderthals some 600,000 years ago – and a new study shows the Y chromosome might be what kept the two species separate. It seems we were genetically incompatible with our ancient relatives – and male fetuses conceived through sex with Neanderthal males would have miscarried. We knew that some cross-breeding between us and Neanderthals happened more recently – around 100,000 to 60,000 years ago. Neanderthal genes have been found in our genomes, on X chromosomes, and have been linked to traits such as skin colour, fertility and even depression and addiction. Now, an analysis of a Y chromosome from a 49,000-year-old male Neanderthal found in El Sidrón, Spain, suggests the chromosome has gone extinct seemingly without leaving any trace in modern humans. This could simply be because it drifted out of the human gene pool or, as the new study suggests, it could be because genetic differences meant that hybrid offspring who had this chromosome were infertile – a genetic dead end. Fernando Mendez of Stanford University, and his colleagues compared the Neanderthal Y chromosome with that of chimps, and ancient and modern humans. They found mutations in four genes that could have prevented the passage of Y chromosome down the paternal line to the hybrid children. “Some of these mutations could have played a role in the loss of Neanderthal Y chromosomes in human populations,” says Mendez. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
by Sarah Zielinski Spring has finally arrived, and birds’ nests all over the country will soon be filling up with eggs and then nestlings. Watch a nest long enough (the Science News staff is partial to the DC Eagle Cam) and you’ll see itty bitty baby birds begging for a meal. But mama birds don’t always reward that begging with food. In some species, like the tree swallow, birds that beg more will get more food. But in others, like the hoopoe, mom ignores who is begging and gives more food to the biggest chicks, researchers have found. This lack of an overall pattern has confounded ornithologists, but it seems that they may have been missing a key piece of the puzzle. A new study finds that the quality of the birds’ environment determines whether a mama bird can afford to feed all of her kids or if she has to ignore some to make sure the others survive. The study appears March 29 in Nature Communications. Stuart West of the University of Oxford and colleagues compiled data from 306 studies that looked at 143 bird species. When the birds were living in a good environment — one that had plenty of resources or a high amount of predictability — then mom would feed the chicks that beg the most, which were often the ones that needed the most help. But when the environment was poor in quality or unpredictable, then mama bird responded less to begging. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22079 - Posted: 04.07.2016
By Elizabeth Pennisi The “brrreeet” you hear in the video above is not coming from this broadbill’s beak, but rather from its wings. Charles Darwin marveled at “instrumental music” of birds—from the rattled quills of peacocks to the wing-drumming of grouse and the wing “booming” of night-jars. But those percussive noises are no match for the definitive tones generated by the three Smithornis broadbills (S. rufolateralis, S. capensis, and S. sharpei) that live in remote forests in sub-Saharan Africa. One bird acoustics specialist was so intrigued in 1986 by a recording of this “song,” that he vowed to hear it for himself. More than 2 years ago, he and his colleagues tracked two of these species down in the wild. Synchronized high-speed video and acoustic recordings revealed the downstroke of the wings produces the tones as the bird flies in a meter-wide oval from its perch and back again. At first the researchers thought the outermost flight feathers flutter to make the sounds, but studies of a wing and of the feathers themselves in a wind tunnel showed that the inner flight feathers are “singing” the most, the team reports today in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The tones may scale with the species’ body and feather size, with the bigger ones producing deeper tones, the researchers suggest. The wing tones seemed to have replaced vocal singing, they note, and are likely unique to this group of birds. Audible 100 meters away in dense forest, they represent yet another innovation for communicating with one’s peers. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
by Sarah Zielinski There must be something wrong with the guy who never leaves home, right? Maybe not — at least if that guy is a male spotted hyena. Males that stay with their birth clan, instead of taking off to join a new group, may simply be making a good choice, a new study suggests. Spotted hyenas are a matriarchal society. Females are in charge. They rank higher than every male in the clan. And the females generally stay with the clan for their entire lives. But males face a choice when they reach two and a half years in age. They can stay with the clan, or they can leave and join a new clan. Each choice has its pros and cons. Staying with the clan means that a male hyena keeps a place at the top of the male pecking order. He’ll probably have his mother around to help. But he’ll be limited in the number of females he can mate with, because many of the female hyenas won’t mate with him because they might be related. If he joins a new clan, the male hyena might have access to more females — and they might even be better than the ones in his home clan — but he’ll start with the lowest social rank and have to spend years fighting his way to the top. Among most group-living mammal species, the guys that stay at home turn out to be losers, siring fewer offspring. But spotted hyenas, it appears, are an exception. Eve Davidian of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and colleagues tracked 254 male spotted hyenas that lived in eight clans in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania throughout their lives, a study lasting 20 years. When these males reached the age of maturity, they left their clans to take a look at the other options available to them. Forty-one hyenas returned to their home clans, and 213 settled with new ones. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016
By Daisy Yuhas Something was wrong with Brayson Thibodeaux. At 15 months old, he still was not walking; his parents and grandparents were certain that his development was slower than normal. After pushing doctors for answers they finally got him to a neurologist who recommended a genetic test. Brayson had fragile X syndrome, the leading heritable cause of intellectual disability and of autism. The discovery sent ripples through the extended family, who live outside New Orleans. Brayson’s great-grandmother, Cheryl, recalled having heard of fragile X and discovered a cousin whose grandson had the same condition. She soon learned that many members of her family were confirmed carriers of a genetic condition—the fragile X pre-mutation—that put them at risk of having children with this syndrome. “Fragile X” refers to a mutation that alters the X chromosome in such a way that, viewed under a microscope, it would look like a piece was about to break off. That is because one gene contains multiple repetitions of noncoding DNA—specifically CGG (cytosine, guanine, guanine). The exact number of CGG repetitions is variable, but when it reaches more than 200, it is considered to be the full mutation, which causes the syndrome. People with between 55 and 200 repeats are said to have a partial or pre-mutation, an unstable gene that can expand into the full mutation in future generations. © 2016 Scientific American,
By Bob Roehr Retired American soccer star Brandi Chastain recently agreed to donate her brain to concussion research after her death. Females are often an unseen part of the concussion story even though they suffer more concussions than males, have more severe symptoms and are slower to recover. Just why is not completely clear, but the deficit in knowledge is slowly beginning to change thanks to women’s advocates behind Pink Concussions. The group gathered last weekend at Georgetown University to review the science behind concussions, and also to develop recommendations on gender-specific prevention protocols and clinical practices on how best to treat females with concussions. In comparable sports “female rates of concussions are much higher than those of their male counterparts,” says Zachary Kerr, director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance Program. Over a five-year period the rates per 1000 athlete-exposures were 6.3 in females versus 3.4 in males in soccer, 6.0 in females versus 3.9 in males in basketball and 3.3 in females versus 0.9 in males in baseball and softball. Only in swimming and diving did male rates (0.3) exceed those of females (0.5). Headache, dizziness and difficulty concentrating were roughly similar among both sexes, Kerr says. But among injured high school athletes, “larger portions of females are reporting sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, nausea and drowsiness,” he says. They were also slower to return to normal activity. The difference between the incidence and severity of concussions between the sexes does not start at birth, because infants and young children of both sexes have similar rates and symptoms with concussions. Puberty, however, which marks a significant developmental fork in the road for males and females, also marks a divergence for concussions. © 2016 Scientific American
By Virginia Morell A fungal disease that has killed amphibians worldwide may be spreading by making the mating calls of infected males more attractive to females. The finding—one of the first—to show that the pathogen can alter a species’s reproductive behavior could explain why frogs and related animals continue to disappear across the globe. “If true—that the fungus is manipulating individuals’ behaviors to facilitate its spread—then this is extraordinary,” says Michael Ryan, a herpetologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who was not involved in the study. The pathogenic fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), causes chytridiomycosis (also known as chytrid fungus disease, which kills amphibians by destroying their skin, disrupting their immune systems, and causing heart failure). Scientists first recognized its lethal effects in the 1990s when numerous species of frogs in Australia and Central and South America experienced massive die-offs; a related fungus attacks salamanders. Bd has been blamed for the extinction of hundreds of amphibian species, and poses a threat to up to one-third of the world’s frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians. There is no cure, but some frog species infected with the fungus are able to survive for years, indicating that they’ve adapted to the disease. Indeed, a recent study showed that Bd has been evolving with amphibians for some 40,000 years, although some species have only recently encountered it. But even amphibian populations adapted to Bd continue to suffer and decline from its effects, says Bruce Waldman, a behavioral ecologist at Seoul National University and one of the authors of the new paper. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By SABRINA TAVERNISE WASHINGTON — Half of one satisfying sexual encounter a month. That is the average benefit a woman gets when she takes the new female libido drug, sometimes called the “female Viagra,” researchers reported Monday. Last year the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, flibanserin, making it the first drug available to treat low sexual desire in women. It was promoted by a group of women’s rights activists who argued it was unfair that men had numerous drugs to boost sexual function while women had nothing. But public health groups and some other women’s groups contended that the science did not justify its approval. The drug’s effects were modest, they said, and not worth side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue and nausea. And the risk of some side effects increased with alcohol consumption. In the new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found benefits that were slightly more modest than those submitted to the F.D.A. during the approval process. The researchers analyzed eight studies of about 5,900 women, using a method that involved pooling the data. They concluded that treatment with flibanserin, now marketed as Addyi, resulted in “one-half of an additional sexually satisfying encounter per month.” (The study did not define what “one-half” of a sexually satisfying encounter was.) That result was not very different from original findings of three clinical trials submitted to the F.D.A. as support for the drug’s approval. Those trials found that once women started taking the drug, they had an average of about one additional satisfying sexual encounter a month, on top of the two to three they were having already. That result lifted the benefits above the bar of being scientifically meaningful, but barely. Still, it was enough for the agency’s approval. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21938 - Posted: 03.01.2016
by Giuseppe Gangarossa When we think about sex hormones, notably estrogens and androgens, we usually associate them with sex, gender and body development. Like all hormones, they are chemical messengers, substances produced in one part of the body that go on to tell other parts what to do. However, we often have the tendency to forget the enormous impact that these steroid hormones have on brain functions. From animal studies, it has become clear that during early development, exposure of the brain to testosterone and estradiol, hormones present in both males and females, leads to irreversible changes in the nervous system (McCarthy et al., 2012). A growing and very appealing body of science suggests that sex hormones play a neuromodulatory role in cognitive brain function (Janowsky, 2006). Moreover, testosterone dysfunctions (hypogonadism, chemical castration, etc.) have shown to be associated with memory defects. However, in spite of these advances, it still remains an enigma how sex hormones affect the brain. In an interesting paper published in PLOS ONE, Picot and colleagues tried to fill in one piece of the puzzle. They investigated the neurobiological effects of cerebral androgen receptor (AR) ablation on hippocampal plasticity and cognitive performance in male rodents (Picot et al., 2016). Although several reports have already highlighted a link between sex hormones and cognitive function (Galea et al., 2008; Janowsky, 2006), much more needs to be done to fully elucidate the “non-sexual” functions of androgens.
By Michael Balter About 90% of bird species live in monogamous pairs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fool around on the side. The females of most monogamous species breed with outside males at least occasionally. Male birds have evolved two main ways to combat such cuckoldry: They either aggressively drive away rival males, or they cement the pair bond by singing lovely duets with their partners. Which works better, making love or making war? Researchers working with the red-backed fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus), native to Australia, put the question to the test by conducting the experiment in the video above. The team mounted a taxidermically stuffed male fairywren on a branch (upper left) in a male-female pair’s territory and then observed what happened. In this case, the live male attacks its artificial rival once, but then spends most of the next minute duetting with its female partner (who is light gray and white). The researchers analyzed data from various trials involving up to 51 males, using parameters such as how long they delayed before attacking the artificial mount, how long before beginning a duet, and how many duets they sang with the females. These data were then correlated with genetic paternity tests of 186 offspring in the nests of the supposedly monogamous birds. Although the percentage of cuckoldry was high—47% of the offspring had been fathered by outside males—those males that quickly responded to the threat of a rival by repeatedly duetting with their partners were much more likely to be the fathers of the offspring in their nests, the team reports online today in Biology Letters. On the other hand, there was no correlation between how aggressive the males were to the artificial rival and the paternity rate, the researchers found. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Susana Martinez-Conde, Stephen L. Macknik In the forests of Australia and New Guinea lives a pigeon-sized creature that is not only a master builder but a clever illusionist, too. The great bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis)—a cousin of crows and jays—has an elaborate mating ritual that relies on the male's ability to conjure forced perspective. Throughout the year he painstakingly builds and maintains his bower: a 60-centimeter-long corridor made of twigs, leading to a courtyard decorated with gray and white pebbles, shells and bones. Some species also add flowers, fruits, feathers, bottle caps, acorns, abandoned toys—whatever colorful knickknacks they can find. The male takes great care to arrange the objects according to size so that the smallest pieces are closest to the bower's entrance and the largest items are farthest away. The elaborate structure is not a nest. Its sole purpose is to attract a female for mating. Once construction is complete, the male performs in the courtyard for a visiting female, who—poised like a critical American Idol judge—evaluates the routine from the middle of the corridor. He sings, dances and prances, tossing around a few select trinkets to impress his potential mate. Her viewpoint is very narrow, and so she perceives objects paving the courtyard as being uniform in size. This forced perspective makes the choice offerings appear grander and therefore all the more enticing. The offerings, and the male himself, appear larger than life because of an effect that visual scientists call the Ebbinghaus illusion, which causes an object to look bigger if it is surrounded by smaller objects. © 2016 Scientific American
By GINA KOLATA More than a million men have smeared testosterone gels on their bodies in recent years, hoping it would rejuvenate them, energize them, and increase their libido. But until now, there has never been a rigorous study asking if there were any real benefits to testosterone therapy for healthy men with so-called low T. The first results of such research were published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Although it found at best modest benefits, mostly in sexual functioning, it is a landmark study, said Dr. Eric S. Orwoll, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, because it provides the first credible data on testosterone’s effects on some of the problems it is thought to resolve. Some doctors said they hoped the modest results might bring some sanity to the testosterone frenzy of recent years. “Frankly,” said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, a dean at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, “there is a lot of abuse.” Men lured by advertisements seek the drug, and Dr. Khosla said he had heard of doctors who prescribed it without first measuring the man’s testosterone levels to see if they were low. “What I hope is that this will bring a more conservative approach,” Dr. Orwoll said. “There is a lot of prescribing out there, and it doesn’t look like, for the average man, it will have a big effect.” The study, led by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and funded by the National Institutes of Health and AbbVie, the maker of the testosterone gel AndroGel, involved 790 men 65 and older with low testosterone levels for their age. Testosterone levels normally fall as men age, but these men had levels on the low end — below 275 nanograms per deciliter of blood. Some of the men said they had lost their sexual drive, others said they were walking much slower than they used to, and others said they just felt blah, as if they had lost their zest for life. The men were randomly assigned to use AndroGel or a placebo for a year. © 2016 The New York Times Company