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Endocrinology: Testosterone affects disease risk differently in women and men

Nature Medicine

February 11, 2020

Levels of testosterone may influence the risk of cardiometabolic diseases and cancer differently for women and men, according to a new study published in Nature Medicine.

Testosterone is a hormone produced naturally by both women and men, and testosterone supplementation is widely used for enhancing bone health, sexual function and body composition. However, its effects on disease outcomes are poorly understood.

John Perry, Timothy Frayling and colleagues used testosterone levels and genetic data available in 425,097 UK Biobank participants. They examined 2,571 genetic variables that regulate testosterone and their associations with metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome, as well as cancer. They found that women genetically predisposed to higher legels of testosterone had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes by 37% and polycystic ovarian syndrome by around 50%. In men, higher testosterone generally had a protective effect and reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 15%. Higher testosterone was also shown to be associated with an increased risk of breast and endometrial cancers in women and prostate cancer in men.

The authors conclude that these findings demonstrate the diverse effects of testosterone on health for women and men and highlight the need for sex-specific genetic analyses in future clinical research.

doi: 10.1038/s41591-020-0751-5

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