Androgens / Testosterone

Our rating
No smiley: On the available evidence, this treatment does not seem to be effective.

What is it?

Androgens are a type of hormone. The most well-known androgen is testosterone, which is produced naturally by the body. Testosterone is involved in the development of male sex characteristics and is important for men’s health and wellbeing. Women also produce testosterone, but in much smaller amounts.

How does it work?

A number of studies have looked at the efficacy of using testosterone to treat men who have depression and low testosterone levels. Out of four studies, only one found that testosterone was better than a placebo at reducing depression symptoms. In the other three studies, testosterone was no more effective than a placebo at reducing depression symptoms.

One study has looked at using testosterone injections to treat women with depression who had not responded well to other treatments. Two thirds of the women experienced a reduction in their depression symptoms after treatment. However, the study only included nine women and there was no control condition to compare to. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of testosterone for treating depression in women.

Are there any disadvantages?

Testosterone treatments are generally well tolerated by men, with few side effects reported. Side effects for women can include oily skin, acne, and increased body hair.

Testosterone may have negative interactions with other medications or supplements. It is important that testosterone is only taken under the supervision of a health care professional. High doses may have harmful side effects.

Where do you get it?

Testosterone can be prescribed by a doctor.

Recommendation

The use of testosterone as a treatment for depression for men cannot be recommended because available evidence has not shown it to be effective. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of testosterone for women.

Key references

  • Miller, K. K., Perlis, R. H., Papakostas, G. I., Mischoulon, D., Losifescu, D. V., Brick, D. J., & Fava, M. (2009). Low-dose transdermal testosterone augmentation therapy improves depression severity in women. CNS Spectr, 14(12), 688-694.
  • Orengo, C. A., Fullerton, L., & Kunik, M. E. (2005). Safety and efficacy of testosterone gel 1% augmentation in depressed men with partial response to antidepressant therapy. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol, 18(1), 20-24.
  • Pope, H. G., Jr., Cohane, G. H., Kanayama, G., Siegel, A. J., & Hudson, J. I. (2003). Testosterone gel supplementation for men with refractory depression: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Psychiatry, 160(1), 105-111.
  • Seidman, S. N., Miyazaki, M., & Roose, S. P. (2005). Intramuscular testosterone supplementation to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor in treatment-resistant depressed men: randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Clin Psychopharmacol, 25(6), 584-588.
  • Seidman, S. N., & Roose, S. P. (2006). The sexual effects of testosterone replacement in depressed men: randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Sex Marital Ther, 32(3), 267-273.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016