Testosterone Replacement Therapy Can Improve Quality of Life for HIV-Infected Men

Posted by Professor Anna Gray, Updated on January 10th, 2023
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Covid-19 is the famous virus at the moment, still in 2021, but another seriously scary virus that we cannot forget about is HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. It is still wreaking havoc on the bodies of thousands of people around the world, leading to shortened lifespans and very low quality of life. Thankfully, there are researchers out there who have devoted their lives to help better the statistics in terms of improved quality of life with an extended lifespan. Interestingly, one of the potential treatment programs involve testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and resistance exercise.

The Basics of HIV

We have all heard of HIV and how it is essentially a death sentence if contracted, but do you know exactly what happens when the virus enters the human body? The first thing it attacks is the immune system: the system we need to fight infection and disease. The virus infects cells called CD4+ cells and replicates (makes copies of itself), leading to more destruction of CD4+ cells and the immune system as a whole. This leaves one at serious risk for illness and infections. Eventually, the patient will come to the final state of HIV: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This is when the immune system is so compromised, it is VERY vulnerable to opportunistic infections and viruses such as the simple cold can kill a patient.

Not everyone will reach the final stage however, and not at the same pace. It depends on many different factors such age, overall health, how quickly diagnosis was made and the timing of treatment. Therefore, it is beneficial for HIV patients to look into treatment that can help improve their quality of life and not just succumb to the disease as if it’s a death sentence. It is possible to slow the progression of the illness and live a better life. This is the motivation behind the researchers behind the following study.

Combining TRT and Resistance Exercise Treatment for HIV Patients

Men who are suffering from HIV tend to experience symptoms such as low muscle mass, fatigue, anxiety and depression, low testosterone, heart strain, swollen glands, aches and pains, skin sores and other terrible symptoms. However, it varies from patient to patient. Scientific researchers wanted to see if testosterone supplementation combined with resistance exercise could improve muscle mass and strength in HIV-infected men. In previous studies, TRT alone did not improve muscle strength in HIV-infected men, unfortunately.

The objective was to compare the effects of TRT with and without resistance exercise on the muscle strength and body composition of HIV-infected men who were exhibiting low testosterone levels and weight loss.

The study was conducted between 1995 and 1998 as a placebo-controlled, double-blind and randomized clinical trial.

Sixty-one men with HIV participated in the trial whose age ranged from 18 to 50 years old. They exhibited low testosterone levels, with serum testosterone levels less than 12.1 nmol/L. In addition, they also suffered from unwanted weight loss with a loss of 5% or more in the previous 6 months.

The men were randomly assigned to one of four study groups: placebo, no exercise; testosterone enanthate, no exercise; placebo and exercise; or testosterone enanthate and exercise. Treatment lasted for 16 weeks.

Body Weight and Muscle Strength Improved with TRT and Exercise

Both body weight and muscle strength saw significant increases in test subjects. Body weight increased significantly in men receiving testosterone alone, as well as men who exercised alone, but not in the placebo group or testosterone/exercise combination. In three groups (testosterone alone; exercise alone and testosterone/exercise) significant increases in maximum voluntary muscle strength (as measured via leg press, leg curls, bench press and latissimus pulls) were seen.

The placebo groups did not see any gains in strength, as compared to the other groups. Other changes of note were a greater increase in thigh muscle volume in the testosterone alone and exercise alone groups, when compared to placebo. Finally, average lean body mass increased significantly in the testosterone alone and testosterone/exercise groups as well, when compared to placebo, where no increases were noted.

The researchers conclude that testosterone and resistance exercise bolsters gains in body weight, muscle mass, lean body mass and muscle strength in HIV-infected men who also exhibit weight loss and low-T. However, testosterone and exercise together did not produce greater gains than either intervention alone. This should not discourage you from exercising or considering TRT to help alleviate certain symptoms of HIV.

Consult with your doctor or one of our endocrinologists to see if you are a candidate for testosterone replacement therapy. It just might change your life!


National Library of Medicine


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