The Low T Center, the growing network of clinics that injects Dallas men with testosterone and whose scientific foundation is a tad shoddy, has won an award for "ingenuity, commitment and character." SMU's Cox Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship named it one of the city's 100 fastest-growing private businesses, quite an honor for the center's owner, Mike Sisk, who styles himself a "serial entrepreneur."
"We are extremely honored to be recognized for this prestigious award and the vision that we started started five years ago," he said, according to a Low T Center press release. That vision only seems to be growing: By the end of 2015, Sisk hopes to have 120 clinics open around the country.
Everything seems to be going great for the Low T Center, and the low T industry as a whole. Because companies that produce testosterone waged an awareness campaign to make middle-aged and older men consider fatigue a sign of having low testosterone, the industry is expected to make more than $5 billion by 2017, according to Global Industry Analysts. And because the campaign focused on men and their bodies, and not a particular company, everyone in the industry benefits: Once men are convinced they have low T, all that's left is to decide where to make it higher.
But there is another side to the industry's growth, and it casts a shadow over the sky-rocketing sales and the awards.
First, it could all just be a placebo -- if men believe it makes them feel better, they'll feel better. No research has ever been done that definitely shows that replacing hormones leads to improving body function, says Dr. Lisa Schwartz, a medical professor and researcher at Dartmouth. After men go on testosterone therapy, they might indeed feel better, but that might be caused by something else.
A scant amount of men actually have "low T," experts say, so there's a great chance that of the more than two million men who used testosterone last year, many did not need it. Men's testosterone levels decrease naturally as they age, but some men -- again, a very small percentage -- have hypogonadism, in which the testicles don't produce testosterone. Therapy is only recommended for men who have hypogonadism and who have damaged their testicles, but many more get it.
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Then there are the allegedly deadly side effects: Taking testosterone may cause heart attacks. There have been hundreds of lawsuits filed against testosterone producers AbbVie and Pfizer, who then sell to clinics such as the Low T Center, because men have taken their product and then suffered a heart attack. Several of those lawsuits are for wrongful death, alleging the companies didn't warn men about the hazards of using their product. Studies have suggested a connection between the therapy and heart problems.
Most men seek out testosterone therapy because they feel, for lack of a better term, old. They don't have the energy they had when they were in college. They fall asleep early, or take naps. Exercising feels like a struggle, and they weren't who they once were in the bedroom.
Men age. It's a fact of life. But with our culture's emphasis on youth, it can be hard to accept that. But is feeling young again worth the risks? Even if a man decides he wants to feel young again, there might be a much, much safer way to increase his testosterone, says Baylor Health System's Bradley Jones. Though the evidence is slim, a natural way to do it might be more sleep, more exercise and more sex. But that won't win anyone awards.
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.