The testosterone and HGH boom: How critics say disease mongering created a multibillion-dollar industry

Recommended by Dr. Michael White, Updated on November 12th, 2020
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Are you tired? Do you have low energy? Have you put on some weight recently?

Despite the advances of modern medicine, there is no magic pill or fountain of youth to combat aging, poor food choices or bad exercise habits.

Butif you've been watching infomercials or flipping through a magazine lately, you may think testosterone could be a cure-all. The "low T" movement, also known as "andropause," targets aging men for their declining testosterone levels. And over the past decade, it's become amultibillion-dollarindustry.

A new editorial, releasedTuesdayin the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, makes the case that "disease mongering" created a surge in the prescribing and the use of testosterone and human growth hormone in the United States.

So what exactly is "disease mongering?" It's the concept of selling sickness to otherwise healthy people. Many people have normalailments that are simply a part of life. Not every symptom means that something is seriously wrong or even wrong at all. But if you can expand and broaden the idea of what diseases exist or "medicalize" what may be normal signs of aging then you can also expand the opportunities for treatments. And that, coupled with aggressive promotion,can create a lucrative industry. That's disease mongering in a nutshell.

Thomas Perls, co-author of the editorial, practices geriatric medicine at Boston Medical Center and has become a well-known critic ofthe burgeoning anti-aging industry. He believes the baby boomer generation has becomeparticularly vulnerable to disease mongering, mostly because of savvy marketing campaigns.

"They're a well-educated, wealthier group of people who, on a regular basis, are exposed to new cures saying, 'We can stop or reverse your aging,' or 'We can make this go away,' or 'We can make your sex life better,' " Perls said in a phone interview. "They may take it hook, line and sinker, especially if it's someone in a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck."

The "disease mongering" claim doesn't sit well with those on the other side of the spectrum, who claim that testosterone has valid and proven uses.

"The allegation of 'disease mongering' is highly disturbing," saidAbraham Morgentaler, a practicing urologist, associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School and author of the book, "Testosterone For Life." "This type of allegation is nearly always made by individuals with no experience treating patients with the condition, and so they have never seen men suffering from testosterone deficiency, nor observed the satisfying response with treatment. This is a real condition experienced by real men."

In the editorial, Perls and his co-author, David Handelsman, a professor ofendocrinology at the ANZAC Research Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia, writethat disease mongering also plays a big role in the "anti-aging" marketing for human growth hormone. The use of HGH is only medically validfor threeconditions, all of which are rare.

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The testosterone and HGH boom: How critics say disease mongering created a multibillion-dollar industry

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