OTC Products for Low Testosterone

In the quest for bigger muscles, improved athletic performance or enhanced sexuality, hundreds of thousands of men have turned to over-the-counter compounds that purport to boost testosterone. Some of these products are actually fake versions of FDA-approved products such as testosterone patches or gels. Others contain compounds that are converted to testosterone in the body. The most common of these testosterone precursors are dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione. The latter gained notoriety in the late 1990s when baseball slugger Mark McGwire disclosed that he routinely used “andros.”

Scientific studies of both precursors using recommended doses of 100 to 300 mg a day have failed to prove any of the sometimes outlandish claims made by manufacturers. Nonetheless, many anecdotal reports suggest that some men do see results from these compounds, such as added strength and bigger muscles. The explanation for the discrepancy is undoubtedly that many men are using doses far higher than those suggested by the manufacturers and higher than those used in the scientific studies.

The bottom line is that precursor compounds do end up as testosterone and, thus, all of the risks noted above apply to them. It doesn’t matter that the testosterone is produced by the body in this case—the extra testosterone will impair fertility, bring a man’s natural testosterone production to a screeching halt, and increase his risk for prostate cancer, heart attack and stroke.

The safest approach is to simply avoid all nutritional supplements if you and your partner are trying to have a baby because many contain hormones or hormone precursors that can hurt fertility and ingredients are often labeled in deceptive ways.

The array of products now available is so huge and the number of brand names so large that a comprehensive list isn’t feasible. In general, however, any supplement containing the following ingredients or which include the following words should be suspect:

  • testosterone
  • dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • androstenedione
  • androstenediol
  • prohormone
  • prehormone
  • “hormone”
  • “anabolic”

Men should also avoid any products that claim to boost energy because they often contain a stimulating compound such as ephedra, caffeine and analogs of amphetamine. Such stimulants can impair ejaculatory function and reduce the amount of semen ejaculated at orgasm. Compounds containing human growth hormone (HGH) or claiming to boost growth hormone should be avoided as well. Research on the potential effects of such products on fertility has not been done, but we do know that such hormones stimulate all growth in the body, including the growth of cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.