Testosterone Boom: Pharma Firms Spread Male Menopause Myth !

 "Man, oh man," read the words emblazoned on a white tent set up in the pedestrian zone of the German city of Erfurt. Those who ventured inside received information on a dramatic scientific finding: One in three men over the age of 60 suffers from "testosterone deficiency syndrome." If left untreated, this dastardly condition can cause excess weight, anemia, hot flashes, osteoporosis, lowered sex drive and bad moods.

This same tent will be making appearances through November in Augsburg, Saarbrücken, Hanover and other German cities. Here, men over the age of 40 can have their testosterone level checked at no cost. They can also learn how to counteract testosterone deficiency: either get more exercise, or apply testosterone gel to their skin.

This traveling testosterone counseling service provided by the "German Society for Men and Health" was not born out of a purely charitable impulse -- there is a marketing angle at work here as well. The organization is funded by pharmaceutical company Jenapharm, the leading manufacturer of testosterone gel.

It's one of five companies that sell the male sex hormone, which is rubbed into the skin, and business couldn't be better. This can be seen in the number of prescriptions issued through Germany's statutory health insurance funds. The Scientific Institute of AOK, one of Germany's largest insurers, analyzed this data on behalf of SPIEGEL and found that prescriptions for testosterone gel more than tripled between 2003 and 2011. The most recent statistics show 390,000 daily doses per year. In Germany, a month's supply of the product costs around €60 ($80).

The booming business in testosterone gel provides a prime example of the ways in which pharmaceutical companies exaggerate illnesses to create new markets for their products.

The testosterone trend comes with attendant risks. Used in excess, the male hormone can promote the growth of prostate cancer and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. American doctors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin recently warned in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine that this widespread use of testosterone is "a mass, uncontrolled experiment that invites men to expose themselves to the harms of a treatment unlikely to fix problems ... that may be wholly unrelated to testosterone levels."

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