Feeling less manly? Estrogen may help

A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine raises interesting questions about what happens to men in middle age. It finds estrogen plays a far larger role in how aging men change than previously thought. The findings could provide new opportunities for drug companies, which already make billions getting us to fiddle with our hormones as we grow older.

Drugs like AndroGel targeting low testosterone -- or Low T, as drug marketers call it in ads -- are a multi-billion dollar industry. It has exploded in recent years, in part because the pitch makes intuitive sense. Men feeling less manly are encouraged to slather on some manly hormone.

Folks who paid attention during middle school sex education know that men have estrogen too. They make less of it as they age. The new research says this estrogen reduction plays an important role in body fat increases and sex drive decline. If drug companies develop estrogen treatments for men, making 30-second ads urging men to get more estrogen won’t be easy.

“When you bring in more of a complicated message, I think it’s gonna be more of a challenge for the industry,” says Morningstar pharmaceutical company analyst Damien Conover.

But if a treatment works, he adds, companies will find a way to sell it. These are new findings and an actual estrogen treatment for men could be years away, if it ever comes to market. But don’t bet against Big Pharma when it comes to selling the public on a new drug.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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