Author(s): Vermeulen A, Goemaere S, Kaufman JM
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Abstract In addition to growth hormone (GH), sex hormones are important determinants of body composition. Aging is accompanied by a decrease in free testosterone levels and, as BMI as well as fat mass increase with age (with a redistribution of body fat), whereas muscle mass decreases, it is tempting to attribute a causal role to the decrease in androgen levels. In our study involving 372 males aged >20-85, age was found to be positively correlated with BMI and fat mass as measured by impedance, and negatively correlated with levels of free testosterone and free insulin-like growth factor-I. Multiple regression analysis revealed that BMI and age were independent determinants of testosterone levels. The latter decreased from 598+/-188 (SD) ng/dl in the young controls to 453+/-161 ng/dl in the elderly group, free testosterone decreasing from 15.35+/-4.10 to 8.38+/-2.51 ng/dl. Fat-free mass decreased by 18.9\%. In a subgroup of 57 men aged 70-80 years, testosterone levels correlated negatively with percentage body fat (r=-0.57), abdominal fat (r=-0.56) and plasma insulin levels (r=-0.40). As GH levels and pulsatility also decrease with age and as, moreover, androgens amplify endogenous secretion of GH, it is not easy to determine the relative role of androgen deficiency in the age-associated changes in body composition. Moreover, increase in fat mass (obesity), as occurs in aging males, is in itself associated with low levels of free testosterone and GH which both normalize after weight reduction. The role of testosterone in the age-associated changes in body composition is, however, further suggested by the increase in lean body mass and in mid-arm circumference and the decrease in waist-to-hip ratio observed after testosterone treatment of elderly men with decreased testosterone levels. Also in healthy eugonadal men, testosterone treatment, at least in supraphysiological doses, causes an important increase in fat-free mass (+/-10\%) and in muscle size. The changes in muscle volume are associated with an increase in muscle fibre diameter, suggesting that testosterone induces muscle cell hypertrophy. In conclusion, aging in males is accompanied by an important increase in fat mass and a decrease in lean body mass. Several indices of body composition are significantly correlated with plasma testosterone levels before and after correction for BMI and age. It is evident, however, that in addition to testosterone levels, the age-associated somatopause is also a determinant of the changes in body composition.
This article was published in J Endocrinol Invest
and referenced in Journal of Gerontology & Geriatric Research