By Gary Pepper, M.D.
In the first article in this series, The HCG-Cancer Connection, I explained how HCG is made by some types of cancer and can serve as a marker for cancer activity. Now I want to explore another effect of HCG, the stimulation of male hormone (testosterone) production.
Just to review, there is no evidence that HCG will cause cancer although conceivably certain cancer responsive tumors may grow faster due to its effect to increase estrogen and testosterone. Every woman who has had a normal pregnancy has been exposed to high HCG levels for many months so if it did cause cancer that effect would be very obvious.
What concerns me is how HCG can influence the normal ovary and its hormone metabolism. HCG is a promiscuous hormone. It will hook up with different hormone “receptors” and masquerade as these other hormones. In the previous article I explained how at very high levels HCG can stimulate the thyroid to make thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism. Another hormone effect of HCG is to mimic LH (leutinizing hormone) which turns on the production of the sex hormones by the testicle in men and ovary in woman. Surprisingly the normal ovary makes testosterone which it then converts to estrogen. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) from the pituitary helps the ovary change testosterone to estrogen. What happens when the ovary gets a lot of LH but not FSH? This is the situation when a woman gets HCG. Testosterone levels will rise more than estrogen levels. Research shows that after a single HCG injection a rise of 20% in testosterone levels occurs in normal women, confirming this theory. During pregnancy with HCG pumping in the blood from the placenta, testosterone levels can double, resulting in acne, oily skin and (in some women) an increase in sex drive. The situation would be far worse for a pregnant woman if the placenta wasnâ€™t also pumping out 100 times the normal amount of estrogen to counteract all the male hormones.
So why should women care if HCG makes their testosterone levels go up? Acne, oily skin and horniness are one thing but there are other effects which might be less acceptable. Testosterone is a mischievous hormone. While it causes hair growth where you don’t want it, it causes hair loss in places you want to keep it. Testosterone stimulates hair growth on the face, chest, back and abdomen. At the same time it causes hair loss from the scalp particularly at the temples and crown. This is referred to as male pattern baldness. Other effects of testosterone in women are the growth of the clitoris, known as clitoromegaly. A clitoris the size of a man’s thumb has been described in a woman due to excess testosterone exposure. Generally this degree of clitoromegaly is seen only in more extreme cases. So you may want to think twice before starting an HCG diet unless looking like Bruce Willis is your thing.
In the final installment on the hazards of HCG I will focus on other possible nasty hormone effects of HCG such as fibroids, infertility and bulging muscles.
John has recently been diagnosed with low testosterone levels and sends metabolism.com this inquiry:
Iâ€™m so glad I found this site! About a month ago I was diagnosed with low T â€“ mine is 140. Very, very low. Symptoms were NO libido, fatigue, massive weight gain (from 195 to 275 in 9 months), swelling below the knees. Not sure if the T is responsible for all of this, but would love your opinion (at the same time â€“ the same day, actually â€“ i was also told I had type 2 diabetes (blood sugar of 203). Is there a link here?
My endocrinologist put me on Enenthate shots, 1ml every 2 weeks (done 2 shots so far). Do you think this is a good dosage? Are the shots better than the cream? Iâ€™m concerned about see-sawing T levels â€“ will they go up after the shot but creep back down again before the next treatment?
Iâ€™d really appreciate any insight, my doc did not spend a lot of time going into these kinds of details with me, it was a bit disappointing. Iâ€™m a white male, a little over 6â€² and 42 years old. Naturally I understand you are only giving an opinion, not actual medical advice. Thanks so much.
Reply by Dr. Pepper:
Thanks for your inquiry John. My first thought about the situation you describe is why would a 42 year old man develop low testosterone? Personally, I never take it for granted that the cause of newly diagnosed low testosterone is “aging”. There are many significant medical conditions that need to be ruled out primarily disorders of the testicle, and pituitary gland. Additional blood tests such as LH, FSH and prolactin and possibly radiological tests are often needed to make that determination. I don’t want to go on a wild goose chase here but swelling of the legs, rapid weight gain, low testosterone and type 2 diabetes may all be caused by an excess of cortisol in the body, known as Cushing’s Syndrome. That could be one way to unify all the events you describe.
Testosterone is generally administered as an injection or rubbed on as a gel. In nature, testosterone levels are more or less constant from day to day, so applying testosterone gel every day mimics this environment pretty well. The injections given every two or three weeks cause a rapid increase of testosterone to unnaturally high levels followed by steady decline often to low levels again before the next shot. My opinion is that shots are much less desirable although they tend to be a lot cheaper and simpler than the daily gels.
You may want to seek a second opinion to find out if other problems exist to explain how you developed low testosterone in the first place.
Keep us posted and good luck.
These comments are for educational purposes only and are not intended to provide medical care or advise.
Gary Pepper, M.D., Editor in Chief, Metabolism.com
Puberty occurs when areas within the brain awaken beginning a cascade of hormone signals which conclude with the gonads (ovaries and testicles) increasing their production of the female and male sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Under the influence of these hormones a child begins the transition from childhood to sexual maturity. In boys puberty is associated with a growth spurt, the appearance of facial, axillary (arm pit) and pubic hair, acne, deepening of the voice, growth of the testicles and penis while girls undergo a growth spurt, develop breasts, acne, pubic and axillary hair, and growth of the clitoris.
Historical data shows the average age of puberty today is many years sooner than in previous generations. Most experts attribute earlier puberty to better nutrition. A recent article in metabolism.com reviewed how “over-nutrition” accelerates obese children into puberty sooner (referred to as precocious puberty) than normal weight children. The latest studies on causes of precocious puberty suggests that a child’s social environment also exerts an important influence on the timing of puberty. Researchers in Madrid publishing in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 95:4305 2010 analyzed the age of puberty in normal children, adopted children and children whose families immigrated (children not adopted but subject to high levels of personal stress) to Spain. Adopted children were 25 times more likely than other groups of children to undergo precocious puberty (breast development before the age of 8 years in girls, and boys under 9 years of age with testicular growth). Over-all girls were 11 times more likely than boys to demonstrate precocious puberty.
Researchers speculate that socio-emotional stresses early in life of children who are later adopted result in changes in the brain that cause premature maturation of vital nerve pathways. This early brain maturation later results in stimulation of the pituitary gland, turning on the hormone pathways that cause puberty. This seems strange to me because various forms of deprivation in childhood can also delay puberty. For example, girls who have anorexia remain child-like in their body development and may fail to menstruate even into their late teens. A decade ago I studied hormone levels in adults during the stress of illness and surgery and found this lowered the sex hormone levels in their blood. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view because during stressful conditions nature wisely cuts off the reproductive hormones. Why make babies if the environment is hostile in some way? Why the opposite occurs in children under stress of adoption is an interesting but unanswered question.
Gary Pepper, M.D.,
Dennis is a middle aged man with a testosterone of 70. He suffers with weakness, muscle aches, soreness of the breast, and carries a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. He inquires if treatment with testosterone will benefit him (see his inquiry in our Comments section).
While I cannot offer medical advice on this website I can make some general comments that may be helpful. In my medical practice I see many men of this age with low testosterone. Usually the testosterone levels are in the low 200’s or slightly less. Symptoms of moodiness, fatigue, weakness, low motivation, and loss of sexual interest and function are the most common complaints. Evaluation for causes of low testosterone usually reveals a failure of the pituitary gland to make enough gonadotropins, the hormones that cause the testicle to manufacture testosterone. In almost all these cases the pituitary gland appears otherwise normal. Many of these men are started on testosterone replacement and generally have a nice improvement in their complaints.
What concerns me about Dennis is that a level of testosterone of 70 is extremely low and can suggest more unusual causes of low testosterone. Tumors of the pituitary gland, injury to the testicle, or rare genetic defects (usually discovered in childhood), cause testosterone levels as low as this. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis may also have similar effects. The fact that his breast is tender is another clue that this is a severe form of testosterone deficiency. My advice to Dennis is to have his V.A. doctors perform a full endocrine evaluation to make sure nothing else is causing the low testosterone. Giving testosterone replacement may only cover up the symptoms of a more significant medical condition.
I hope that helps. Dennis…let us know how this turns out.
Gary Pepper, M.D.
The disclaimer of metabolism.com applies to this and all of my posts.
A published study confirms what has been suspected for some time, which is that men in the Boston area over the past two decades are showing declining levels of testosterone (male hormone), in their blood. Over twenty years the average testosterone level in these men dropped from 501 to 391. Many experts regard a testosterone lower than 300 to be abnormally low and possibly needing testosterone replacement treatment. One of the scientists on the study, Dr. Thomas Travison states that when comparing testosterone levels in Boston men from 1987 to 2005 a decline in the testosterone level in every adult age group was found over this time. The researcher stated that the speed with which the levels of male hormone declined over the twenty years and the uniformity of the decline in all age groups was cause for concern.
It is known that testosterone levels decline slowly as men age. Declining male hormone levels were found even in the 45 to 71 year age range, however. Other known causes of declining testosterone levels, the growing incidence of obesity and sedentary life style in Boston men, did not explain the findings, say the researchers.
Could other factors be at work here? Alcohol has a powerful effect on male hormone levels for many reasons. Some alcohol products like bourbon and beer may have estrogen (female hormone) like plant products in them. Liver disease from excess alcohol consumption can also reduce the level of male hormone. Other drugs may have a negative effect on male hormone production such as cannabis (marijuana, Mary Jane, pot, herb, weed, splif, ganja, the bomb, the shit etc.). Although not nearly as wide spread in its use are the opiate type drugs, heroine, methadone, opium, codeine, hydrocodone etc. which can severely depress male hormone levels.
Environmental pollutants are known to cause adverse hormonal effects in men. Pollutants such as PCBâ€™s and DDT act like female hormone and could reduce a manâ€™s testicular function (the testicle is the site of testosterone and sperm production in men). Even herbal products can have anti-male hormone effect such as soy, black cohosh, and white clover. Perhaps the Boston men are being exposed to these influences more now then in the past and the result is sinking male hormone levels.
Before concluding that Boston men are simply pot smoking, beer drinking, soy eating effeminate couch potatoes, the authors of the study call for additional research into the possible origins of this serious loss of virility hormone in the Boston area.
Gary Pepper M.D.