Androgens and cardiovascular disease

Endocr Rev. 2003 Jun;24(3):313-40. doi: 10.1210/er.2003-0005.


Globally, cardiovascular disease will continue causing most human deaths for the foreseeable future. The consistent gender gap in life span of approximately 5.6 yr in all advanced economies must derive from gender differences in age-specific cardiovascular death rates, which rise steeply in parallel for both genders but 5-10 yr earlier in men. The lack of inflection point at modal age of menopause, contrasting with unequivocally estrogen-dependent biological markers like breast cancer or bone density, makes estrogen protection of premenopausal women an unlikely explanation. Limited human data suggest that testosterone exposure does not shorten life span in either gender, and oral estrogen treatment increases risk of cardiovascular death in men as it does in women. Alternatively, androgen exposure in early life (perinatal androgen imprinting) may predispose males to earlier onset of atherosclerosis. Following the recent reevaluation of the estrogen-protection orthodoxy, empirical research has flourished into the role of androgens in the progression of cardiovascular disease, highlighting the need to better understand androgen receptor (AR) coregulators, nongenomic androgen effects, tissue-specific metabolic activation of androgens, and androgen sensitivity. Novel therapeutic targets may arise from understanding how androgens enhance early plaque formation and cause vasodilatation via nongenomic androgen effects on vascular smooth muscle, and how tissue-specific variations in androgen effects are modulated by AR coregulators as well as metabolic activation of testosterone to amplify (via 5alpha-reductase to form dihydrotestosterone acting on AR) or diversify (via aromatization to estradiol acting upon estrogen receptor alpha/beta) the biological effects of testosterone on the vasculature. Observational studies show that blood testosterone concentrations are consistently lower among men with cardiovascular disease, suggesting a possible preventive role for testosterone therapy, which requires critical evaluation by further prospective studies. Short-term interventional studies show that testosterone produces a modest but consistent improvement in cardiac ischemia over placebo, comparable to the effects of existing antianginal drugs. By contrast, testosterone therapy has no beneficial effects in peripheral arterial disease but has not been evaluated in cerebrovascular disease. Erectile dysfunction is most frequently caused by pelvic arterial insufficiency due to atherosclerosis, and its sentinel relationship to generalized atherosclerosis is insufficiently appreciated. The commonality of risk factor patterns and mechanisms (including endothelial dysfunction) suggests that the efficacy of antiatherogenic therapy is an important challenge with the potential to enhance men's motivation for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / metabolism*
  • Androgens / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis / complications
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / drug therapy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Coronary Disease / physiopathology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / etiology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Longevity
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Androgens