Testosterone Replacement Headlines: Can They Be Trusted?

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This week, Brett Newcomb and I are once again examining the news media and the way that they present information about medical research and medical progress, often through misleading headlines.

Last month, Dr. Andrew Kates—a cardiologist at Washington University—published an article on the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in which he expressed his opinion regarding testosterone replacement. He addressed this subject because it has been the object of a lot of negativity in the media recently. For example, JAMA—the Journal of the American Medical Association—recently published a report entitled Testosterone Therapy and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Men, claiming that testosterone replacement could lead to heart attacks and cardiac events. Dr. Kates’s article was in response to this JAMA article, as well as to the news headlines in general.

In his article, Dr. Kates says that there is both evidence that encourages the replacement of testosterone and evidence that discourages it. He recommends that patients take their time in making the decision of whether or not to undergo testosterone replacement therapy. All in all, I believe that to be an appropriate approach. But, what we want to discuss is the role that headlines play in patients’ medical decisions and reasoning. The headline of JAMA’s report suggests that taking testosterone replacements might cause you to have a heart attack. However, current research and scientific thought is contrary to that opinion. Harvard professor Dr. Abraham Morgenthaler—a leading expert on testosterone in men and the author of Testosterone for Life—recently gave a speech at the AMMG Conference in Orlando, FL regarding this very issue. In his speech, Dr Morgenthaler challenged the research behind the aforementioned article in JAMA. Specifically, he challenged the selection criteria for the population that was studied; all elderly male veterans that already had heart conditions and/or histories of strokes. He challenged the study because ten percent of those included in the study of men and cardio risks turned out to be women. He challenged the interpretation of the data on statistical methodology, and, finally, he asked that the article be taken down.

It is not often that JAMA takes an article down once it has been published. Almost immediately after Dr. Morgenthaler published his challenge to the article, 3000 specialists, including Urologists, Scientists, and Researchers from over 24 countries spontaneously put together a petition demanding that JAMA retract their article because of its poor research methodology and errant conclusions. These specialists are worried that such negative headlines will cause people who are already taking testosterone replacements to stop their treatments and experience life-threatening and debilitating harm.

All of this is an encouragement for Brett and I to once again communicate that basing medical decisions solely on headlines is reactive and, therefore, dangerous. Both ordinary people and doctors struggle with this issue, whether it is due to a lack of time for more extensive research or due to the human tendency to read a headline and not read the article that it describes. Publishers have such a burden of responsibility when they create headlines for this reason.

Please read more thoroughly and speak with your physician about any medical treatment you are considering. Evaluate, consider, and choose: be an active participant in your own medical decision making.

Listen to our podcast for more information about the relationship between testosterone replacement and heart conditions.