Testosterone Treatment and Tiny Testicles: There is a Better Option

Andrew Siegel MD  5/25/18

“If a man is prescribed Food and Drug Administration approved testosterone for androgen deficiency, his overall health improves but his sperm production declines and his testes shrink. If he is prescribed off-label clomiphene citrate, his health improves and his sperm production is preserved, as does the size of his testicles.  This selective receptor estrogen modulator for male reproductive endocrine therapy must be a great new discovery, right? Wrong. It has been around for 50 years.”

Dr. Craig Niederberger, Department Head of Urology, University of Illinois School of Medicine

The Magic of Testosterone (T)

For the symptomatic man who has low levels of T, boosting levels of this male  “rocket fuel” hormone can result in a remarkable improvement of energy, sexuality (sex drive, erections, ejaculation), masculinity, mood, body composition (muscle and bone mass), mental focus and other parameters. However, men considering T treatment must understand that T is not a cure-all and must only be used under the circumstances of symptoms of low T and laboratory testing that shows low T.  Most certainly, T has been over-marketed, over-prescribed and certain side effects have been understated. It is vital to understand the side effects of T before committing to treatment.

T Science

Most T is made by the testicles. Its secretion is governed by the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary, the master gland in the brain. Some of T is converted to the female hormone estradiol (E). E is the primary hormone involved in the regulation of the pituitary gland. Under the circumstance of adequate levels of T, E feeds back to the pituitary to turn off LH production. This feedback loop is similar to the way a thermostat regulates the temperature of a room in order to maintain a relatively constant temperature, shutting the heat off when a certain temperature is achieved, and turning it on when the temperature drops.

The Effect of Long-Term T Replacement

So, what happens when you have been on long-term T? This externally sourced T, whether it is in the form of gels, patches, injections, pellets, etc., shuts off the pituitary LH by the feedback system described above so that the testes stop manufacturing natural T. Additionally, the testes production of sperm is stifled, problematic for men wishing to remain fertile. In other words, external T is a contraceptive! Nearly all men will have suppression of sperm production while on T replacement, less so with the gels vs. the injections or implantable pellets.

Thus, using T results in the testes shutting down production of sperm and natural T and after long-term T use, the testes can actually shrivel, becoming ghosts of their former functional selves. “Use it or lose it” is relevant to every organ in the body and external T essential puts the testes into hibernation and dormancy.

If you stop the T after long-term use, natural function does not resume anytime quickly. Although recovery usually occurs within 6 months or so, it may take several years and permanent detrimental effects are possible.

The bottom line is that at the time you are receiving the benefits of T, your natural T is shut off and you can end up infertile, with smaller testicles (testicular atrophy, in urology parlance)!

Is there an alternative for the symptomatic male with low T?  Can you boost levels of T without shutting down your testes and developing shrunken, poorly functional gonads? 

The answer is an affirmative YES, and one that Big Pharma does not want you to know. There has been such a medication around for 50 years. It has been FDA approved for infertility issues in both sexes and is available on a generic basis. In urology we have used it for many years for men with low sperm counts. Here is a little secret: this medication also raises T levels nicely, and does so by stimulating the testes to secrete natural T rather than shutting them down.  No marble-sized testes that have their function turned to the “off” mode, but respectable family jewels.  The other really good news is that treatment does not necessarily need to be indefinite. The testes can be “kicked” back into normal function, and at some point a trial off the medication is warranted.

The medication is clomiphene citrate, a.k.a Clomid, and I will refer to it as CC. CC is an oral pill commonly used in females to stimulate ovulation and in males to stimulate sperm production. CC is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) and works by increasing the pituitary hormones that trigger the testes to produce sperm and testosterone. CC blocks E at the pituitary, so the pituitary sees less E and makes more LH and thus more T, whereas giving external T does the opposite, increasing E and thus the pituitary makes less LH and the testes stop making T.


Works Like A Charm

CC usually works like a charm in increasing T levels and maintaining sperm production, testes anatomy (size) and function. Its safety and effectiveness profile has been well established and minor side effects occur in proportion to dose and may include (in a small percentage of men): flushes, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting, headache, and rarely visual symptoms.  In general, those with the highest LH levels have the poorest response to CC, probably because they already have maximal stimulation of the testes by the LH.

Not FDA Approved For Low T

One issue is that CC is not FDA approved for low T, only for infertility.  Many physicians are reluctant to use a medication that is not FDA approved for a specific purpose. It needs to be used “off label,” even though it is effective and less expensive than most of the other overpriced T products on the market.

Bottom Line: Treatment to boost T levels should only be done when one has genuine symptoms of low T and a low T level documented on laboratory testing. Using externally-sourced T to boost T successfully raises T and often resolves the symptoms of low T but shuts down the testes and nullifies whatever natural T was being produced as well as sperm production. Clomid is an oral, less expensive alternative that stimulates natural T production and the oral pill formulation is an easier and more discreet delivery system than sloppy gels, injections and pellets.

A study from Journal of Urology (Testosterone Supplementation Versus Clomiphene Citrate: An Age Matched Comparison of Satisfaction and Efficiency. R. Ramasamy, JM Scovell, JR Kovac, LI Lipshultz in J Urol 2014;192:875-9) compared T injections, T gels, CC and no treatment.  T increased from 247 to 504, 224 to 1104 and 230 to 412 ng/dL, respectively, for CC, T injections and gels. Men in all of the 3 treatment arms experienced similar satisfaction. The authors concluded that CC is equally effective as T gels with respect to T level and improvement in T deficiency-related clinical symptoms and because CC is much less expensive than T gels and does not harm testes size or sperm production, physicians should much more often consider CC, particularly in younger men with low T levels.

Wishing you the best of health and a wonderful Memorial Day weekend,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community.

Dr. Siegel has authored the following books that are available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo:

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health 

PROMISCUOUS EATING: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

These books are written for educated and discerning men and women who care about health, well-being, fitness and nutrition and enjoy feeling confident and strong.

Dr. Siegel is co-creator of the male pelvic floor exercise instructional DVD (female version is in the works): PelvicRx

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One Response to “Testosterone Treatment and Tiny Testicles: There is a Better Option”

  1. Is There a Best Way to Treat Testosterone Deficiency? | Our Greatest Wealth Is Health Says:

    […] a marked reduction in testosterone production and sperm count.  Eventually, the testes will suffer disuse atrophy and can shrink substantially in size.  Men on long-term testosterone replacement therapy will […]

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