Is male menopause a myth intended to drive pharma sales?

What's he sad about: male menopause or how badly he's been fooled by big pharmaceuticals? (Photo Credit: ThinkStock)

According to WebMD, the concept of male menopause is controversial at best. Aside from in men who undergo testosterone therapy or male athletes who binge on performance enhancing drugs, there does not appear to be a recognizable male hormone cycle. Yet that hasn’t stopped pharmaceutical companies from pushing male menopause treatments, reports the Washington Post. Male menopause prescriptions reportedly skyrocketed in the U.S. from 2.4 million men in 2005 to 3.9 million in 2009.

Male menopause is something men should fear, says big pharma

According to a no-doubt well-compensated urologist, 5 million U.S. males experience low libido, mood swings and hot flashes that point toward supposed male menopause. It’s yet another hook big pharma has cast to prey upon vanity. Doctors the Post interviewed indicate that a life change is not uncommon for men, but whether the majority of men need medication to “deal” with the changes is debatable. Chicago Northwestern Memorial Hospital urologist Robert Brannigan categorizes the testosterone change in the late 30s/early 40s for men as “subtle” compared with the change in women.

In clinical terms, this subtle shift is known as hypogonadism. Depression, irritability, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and various other symptoms can occur, but once again, the prevalence is a matter of debate. Brannigan claims it’s a “huge problem” that goes largely undiagnosed, but the fabric of male history clearly didn’t unravel before pharmaceutical companies rode in with their expensive products. Studies cited in Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin claim that men’s testosterone levels commonly do not drop significantly with age, so male menopause drugs could be a corporate invention. The pharmaceutical industry made a reported $643 billion in 2006 and it seems likely that that annual figure has increased significantly since then. What’s another few million or more each year for male menopause drugs? Big pharma is swimming in quick cash and (conceivably) has more money to lend than most countries.

Avoiding the trap

Endocrinologist Jason Wexler of Washington Hospital center tells the Post that men should be concerned about unnecessary screening for male menopause. “Low testosterone levels don’t represent a problem to be ‘discovered’. ” There isn’t enough literature to support the safety of testosterone supplements in aging men, Wexler doubts whether the costs are worth it, and the benefits are largely unknown.


The Washington Post


Wikipedia entry on pharmaceutical industry