Increasing testosterone for sexual function also boosts insulin sensitivity of Type 2 diabetics

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Ibrahim Zeid, 65, a Palestinian cigarette vendor and a diabetic, sits next to his artificial limb during a visit to a prosthetics centre in the West Bank town of Qalqilya March 4, 2014. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Testosterone treatment was found not just to boost sexual function but also as a potential new approach to improve the lives of men with Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study. Testosterone has been discovered to increase insulin sensitivity of diabetic patients as well as improve their muscle mass.

In a press release, researchers from the University at Buffalo in New York report that low testosterone levels were linked with significantly reduced insulin sensitivity. The study has been published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Findings show that testosterone has helped increase uptake of glucose by tissues up to 32 percent, improving insulin sensitivity. It has also increased the expression of major genes facilitating insulin signalling by the same rate.

The link between insulin sensitivity and testosterone in Type 2 diabetic males was already reported in two studies published in 2004 and 2010 by the researchers of the current study. They found that low testosterone levels could potentially be present in men with Type 2 diabetes and those who are non-diabetic but obese.

"This is the first definitive evidence that testosterone is an insulin sensitizer and hence a metabolic hormone," said senior author Paresh Dandona, a professor and chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism in the Department of Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

The current study involved nearly 100 men with Type 2 diabetes, 44 of which had low testosterone levels and significantly lower levels of insulin-signalling genes. Researchers provided testosterone injection or a placebo to randomised participants every week for 24 weeks.

Results show that hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) levels of patients did not decrease, indicating that testosterone helps control diabetes. However, Dandona noted that longer-term studies are needed to fully determine the significant improvement in HbA1c.  

Researchers also found that testosterone treatment reduced total body fat by 3 kilogrammes and increased muscle mass by the same amount. "Testosterone treatment for men, where indicated, will improve sexual function and increase skeletal muscle strength and bone density," Dandona said.

Dandona and his colleagues aim to understand the impact of testosterone treatment to insulin resistance and inflammation in patients with chronic renal failure and hypogonadism, which they reported in a study in June. The study found that two-thirds of Type 2 diabetic men with chronic kidney disease suffered from low testosterone levels, with 90 percent of those on dialysis having the condition.

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