More men turning to 'steroids for the boardroom'

PORTLAND, Ore. - More and more men are turning to a substance that has been banned on sports fields to give them an edge in the boardroom: testosterone.

Testosterone is an anabolic steroid. As men age, their testosterone levels can drop to the point where they affect their physical, mental and emotional state in dramatic ways. If prescribed and supervised by a physician, testosterone treatments can be life-changing.

Robert Rios of Hillsboro knows how much. Eight years ago, you wouldn't have found him in the gym. He could barely get out of bed. He suffered from aches, pains, low energy, and low libido.

"Mentally, I lost my creativity," explains Rios. "I lost my drive."

He even started to lose his memory.

"I would leave my cubicle to go and take care of something," says Rios. "Halfway there, I wouldn't know where I was going (or) why I was going there, and I'd have to go back to my cubicle to figure out what was I going to do."

It got so bad that Rios demoted himself, giving up his job as an Intel manager to become a technician.

But worst of all, he slipped into a deep depression that almost ended his marriage.

"I did get to the point, I'll be quite honest, that I wasn't a very compassionate wife because there was a part of me that said, why can't you just get up and do this," admits Michelle Rios.

Rios' wife found Dr. Kathryn Retzler, a naturopathic physician who runs a practice called Hormone Synergy in Southwest Portland. She's written a book by the same name. Retzler diagnosed Rios with low testosterone, or low T.

"A lot of times, people misunderstand testosterone and think it causes aggressiveness," says Dr. Retzler. "That's not actually true. Testosterone is the hormone of assertiveness, decision making, (and) confidence."

Dr. Retzler points out that there's a difference between supplementing a man's optimal T-level versus exceeding it, like some athletes do.

Diagnosing low T can be tricky. There's a wide range of what's considered normal - anywhere from 300 to 800. Rios' T-level was 246.

Once diagnosed, men can use patches, topical gels and creams, injections that last up to a week or pellet implants that dissolve over 4 to 5 months.

"I'd say up to 50% (of patients), at least in my practice, end up having documented low testosterone," reveals Dr. Jason Hedges, a urologist at OHSU, who has researched the effects of testosterone.

Dr. Hedges says more men are asking about low-T treatments because of aggressive advertising by pharmaceutical companies. It's opened up the conversation, but not every man is a candidate. Men who would like to father children should not use testosterone because it can cut sperm counts. And those men who do use it should be monitored carefully by a doctor.

"If it's in the normal range, and you put them too high, then you can run into a lot of problems with things like their bone marrow, liver, cholesterol, and prostate," advises Dr. Hedges.

For Rios, the results from the pellet implants were immediate.

"Within a week, I started feeling alive again - mentally alert, physically strong," remembers Rios.

Now this 52-year-old feels like he did when he was in his 30s. He's got the energy to exercise, the creativity to problem solve at work, and a renewed passion for life.

"We're better now than we could have ever dreamed of being before," says Michelle Rios. "He's got his self-confidence back. (He's) willing to try new things. (He's going) out into the world. To even be here to speak, that's big."

Robert Rios' message to other men is simple: you don't have to suffer.

Some insurance providers do cover low-T therapies.

Click here for more information on low-T symptoms