Drugmakers spent more than $100 million last year to promote prescription testosterone, everything from gels and patches to injections. And the ads appear to be working, as sales are soaring.
Now, Consumer Reports is urging serious caution.
Men worried about their sexual health are being bombarded by commercials promoting testosterone. But Consumer Reports' Dr. John Santa says that despite the fact that testosterone treatment sales topped $2 billion in 2012, most men don't need it.
"Even if you're worried about erectile dysfunction, treatment with testosterone usually isn't the answer," Dr. Santa said. "Erectile dysfunction almost always stems from other problems: reduced blood flow, emotional problems, or a drug side effect."
And using testosterone treatments, which can cost $400 a month or more, has serious risks.
"A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men using one testosterone gel, Testim 1%, for six months had more heart attacks and other cardiovascular events," Dr. Santa said.
Even Stephen Colbert is taking note.
"The best part is this highly concentrated male sex hormone doesn't have one side effect, it has dozens of them!" he joked.
Serious side effects can include worsening of enlarged prostate, possible increased risk of prostate cancer, enlarged breasts, sleep apnea, blood clots in the legs and, for younger men, lower fertility is a major concern.
"Starting testosterone is a big deal," Dr. Santa said. "It should only be done after a long and careful conversation between doctor and patient."
And there's another concern. Family members being accidentally exposed to testosterone gels. The hormone can cause women to develop male characteristics and children to enter an early puberty.