Context: Reference ranges are essential for partitioning testosterone levels into low or normal and making the diagnosis of androgen deficiency. We established reference ranges for total testosterone (TT) and free testosterone (FT) in a community-based sample of men.
Methods: TT was measured using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry in nonobese healthy men, 19-40 yr old, in the Framingham Heart Study Generation 3; FT was calculated. Values below the 2.5th percentile of reference sample were deemed low. We determined the association of low TT and FT with physical dysfunction, sexual symptoms [European Male Aging Study (EMAS) only], and diabetes mellitus in three cohorts: Framingham Heart Study generations 2 and 3, EMAS, and the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study.
Results: In a reference sample of 456 men, mean (sd), median (quartile), and 2.5th percentile values were 723.8 (221.1), 698.7 (296.5), and 348.3 ng/dl for TT and 141. 8 (45.0), 134.0 (60.0), and 70.0 pg/ml for FT, respectively. In all three samples, men with low TT and FT were more likely to have slow walking speed, difficulty climbing stairs, or frailty and diabetes than those with normal levels. In EMAS, men with low TT and FT were more likely to report sexual symptoms than men with normal levels. Men with low TT and FT were more likely to have at least one of the following: sexual symptoms (EMAS only), physical dysfunction, or diabetes.
Conclusion: Reference ranges generated in a community-based sample of men provide a rational basis for categorizing testosterone levels as low or normal. Men with low TT or FT by these criteria had higher prevalence of physical dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and diabetes. These reference limits should be validated prospectively in relation to incident outcomes and in randomized trials.