By Gary Pepper, M.D.
In the first article in this series, The HCG-Cancer Connection, I explained how HCG is made by some types of cancer and can serve as a marker for cancer activity. Now I want to explore another effect of HCG, the stimulation of male hormone (testosterone) production.
Just to review, there is no evidence that HCG will cause cancer although conceivably certain cancer responsive tumors may grow faster due to its effect to increase estrogen and testosterone. Every woman who has had a normal pregnancy has been exposed to high HCG levels for many months so if it did cause cancer that effect would be very obvious.
What concerns me is how HCG can influence the normal ovary and its hormone metabolism. HCG is a promiscuous hormone. It will hook up with different hormone “receptors” and masquerade as these other hormones. In the previous article I explained how at very high levels HCG can stimulate the thyroid to make thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism. Another hormone effect of HCG is to mimic LH (leutinizing hormone) which turns on the production of the sex hormones by the testicle in men and ovary in woman. Surprisingly the normal ovary makes testosterone which it then converts to estrogen. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) from the pituitary helps the ovary change testosterone to estrogen. What happens when the ovary gets a lot of LH but not FSH? This is the situation when a woman gets HCG. Testosterone levels will rise more than estrogen levels. Research shows that after a single HCG injection a rise of 20% in testosterone levels occurs in normal women, confirming this theory. During pregnancy with HCG pumping in the blood from the placenta, testosterone levels can double, resulting in acne, oily skin and (in some women) an increase in sex drive. The situation would be far worse for a pregnant woman if the placenta wasn’t also pumping out 100 times the normal amount of estrogen to counteract all the male hormones.
So why should women care if HCG makes their testosterone levels go up? Acne, oily skin and horniness are one thing but there are other effects which might be less acceptable. Testosterone is a mischievous hormone. While it causes hair growth where you don’t want it, it causes hair loss in places you want to keep it. Testosterone stimulates hair growth on the face, chest, back and abdomen. At the same time it causes hair loss from the scalp particularly at the temples and crown. This is referred to as male pattern baldness. Other effects of testosterone in women are the growth of the clitoris, known as clitoromegaly. A clitoris the size of a man’s thumb has been described in a woman due to excess testosterone exposure. Generally this degree of clitoromegaly is seen only in more extreme cases. So you may want to think twice before starting an HCG diet unless looking like Bruce Willis is your thing.
In the final installment on the hazards of HCG I will focus on other possible nasty hormone effects of HCG such as fibroids, infertility and bulging muscles.
Dennis is a middle aged man with a testosterone of 70. He suffers with weakness, muscle aches, soreness of the breast, and carries a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. He inquires if treatment with testosterone will benefit him (see his inquiry in our Comments section).
While I cannot offer medical advice on this website I can make some general comments that may be helpful. In my medical practice I see many men of this age with low testosterone. Usually the testosterone levels are in the low 200’s or slightly less. Symptoms of moodiness, fatigue, weakness, low motivation, and loss of sexual interest and function are the most common complaints. Evaluation for causes of low testosterone usually reveals a failure of the pituitary gland to make enough gonadotropins, the hormones that cause the testicle to manufacture testosterone. In almost all these cases the pituitary gland appears otherwise normal. Many of these men are started on testosterone replacement and generally have a nice improvement in their complaints.
What concerns me about Dennis is that a level of testosterone of 70 is extremely low and can suggest more unusual causes of low testosterone. Tumors of the pituitary gland, injury to the testicle, or rare genetic defects (usually discovered in childhood), cause testosterone levels as low as this. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis may also have similar effects. The fact that his breast is tender is another clue that this is a severe form of testosterone deficiency. My advice to Dennis is to have his V.A. doctors perform a full endocrine evaluation to make sure nothing else is causing the low testosterone. Giving testosterone replacement may only cover up the symptoms of a more significant medical condition.
I hope that helps. Dennis…let us know how this turns out.
Gary Pepper, M.D.
The disclaimer of metabolism.com applies to this and all of my posts.