How Testosterone Levels Can Affect Risk For Diabetes, Cancer

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Test Tubes

Hormones have long been understood to play a variety of roles around the body, from influencing your sleep cycles, to your skin, to metabolism and mood. And as new research suggests, testosterone may be one hormone that can affect an individual's risk for disease.

In the largest study of its kind on genetic regulation of sex hormones and their effects, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Exeter observed how varying levels of testosterone in men and women are linked with more or less risk for cancers and metabolic diseases.

And based on their findings, the research could go on to change the way we understand and treat different diseases.

The effects of testosterone.

To conduct their research, the team analyzed genetic studies on over 425,000 people, to identify the different diseases or traits associated with various levels of testosterone.

Based on the findings, the team concluded that genetically higher levels of testosterone in women can increase the risk of breast and endometrial cancers. Additionally, it can increase the risk type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disease in women by 37%, and the risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) by 51%.

Interestingly, the opposite effect is seen in men, with higher levels of testosterone decreasing their risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%. More testosterone does, however, increase the risk of prostate cancer in men.

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Applying the findings to prevention.

With a greater understanding of how testosterone can work with, or against, diseases in the body, the team hopes their findings can help doctors better treat and prevent them.

For example, joint senior author of the paper John Perry, Ph.D., notes that understanding how testosterone levels affect the risk of PCOS will help us figure out the origins of the disorder. Similarly, he adds that the research also demonstrates how testosterone-reducing therapy could help prevent prostate cancer.

The team notes more research is necessary before they start doling out testosterone supplements, but there's no question that the hormone plays a role in disease. But whether that effect is good or bad, it appears, depends on your sex and your hormone levels.

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