Findings that improvements in serum glucose, serum insulin, insulin resistance or glycemic control, in men treated with testosterone are accompanied by reduced measures of central obesity, are in line with other studies showing a specific effect of testosterone in reducing central or visceral obesity (Rebuffe-Scrive et al 1991; Marin, Holmang et al 1992). Furthermore, studies that have shown neutral effects of testosterone on glucose metabolism have not measured (Corrales et al 2004), or shown neutral effects (Lee et al 2005) (Tripathy et al 1998; Bhasin et al 2005) on central obesity. Given the known association of visceral obesity with insulin resistance, it is possible that testosterone treatment of hypogonadal men acts to improve insulin resistance and diabetes through an effect in reducing central obesity. This effect can be explained by the action of testosterone in inhibiting lipoprotein lipase and thereby reducing triglyceride uptake into adipocytes (Sorva et al 1988), an action which seems to occur preferentially in visceral fat (Marin et al 1995; Marin et al 1996). Visceral fat is thought to be more responsive to hormonal changes due to a greater concentration of androgen receptors and increased vascularity compared with subcutaneous fat (Bjorntorp 1996). Further explanation of the links between hypogonadism and obesity is offered by the hypogonadal-obesity-adipocytokine cycle hypothesis (see Figure 1). In this model, increases in body fat lead to increases in aromatase levels, in addition to insulin resistance, adverse lipid profiles and increased leptin levels. Increased action of aromatase in metabolizing testosterone to estrogen, reduces testosterone levels which induces further accumulation of visceral fat. Higher leptin levels and possibly other factors, act at the pituitary to suppress gonadotrophin release and exacerbate hypogonadism (Cohen 1999; Kapoor et al 2005). Leptin has also been shown to reduce testosterone secretion from rodent testes in vitro (Tena-Sempere et al 1999). A full review of the relationship between testosterone, insulin resistance and diabetes can be found elsewhere (Kapoor et al 2005; Jones 2007).
Another effect that can limit treatment is polycythemia, which occurs due to various stimulatory effects of testosterone on erythropoiesis (Zitzmann and Nieschlag 2004). Polycythemia is known to produce increased rates of cerebral ischemia and there have been reports of stroke during testosterone induced polycythaemia (Krauss et al 1991). It is necessary to monitor hematocrit during testosterone treatment, and hematocrit greater than 50% should prompt either a reduction of dose if testosterone levels are high or high-normal, or cessation of treatment if levels are low-normal. On the other hand, late onset hypogonadism frequently results in anemia which will then normalize during physiological testosterone replacement.
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