A wealth of observational studies show that low testosterone is associated with insulin resistance and with an increased risk of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Experimental studies have identified potential mechanisms by which low testosterone may lead to insulin resistance. Visceral adipose tissue is an important intermediate in this relationship. Actions of testosterone or its metabolite oestradiol on other tissues such as muscle, liver, bone or the brain, and body composition-independent effects may also play a role. However, definitive evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to clarify whether the association of low testosterone with disordered glucose metabolism is causative is currently lacking. It therefore remains possible that this association is due to reverse causation, or simply originates by association with common health and lifestyle factors. RCTs of testosterone therapy in men with or without diabetes consistently show modest metabolically favourable changes in body composition. Despite this, testosterone effects on glucose metabolism have been inconsistent. Recent evidence suggests that the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis suppression in the majority of obese men with metabolic disorders is functional, and may be, at least in part, reversible with weight loss. Until further evidence is available, lifestyle measures with emphasis on weight reduction, treatment of comorbidities and optimisation of diabetic control should remain the first-line treatment in these men. Such measures, if successful, may be sufficient to normalise testosterone levels in men with metabolic disorders, who typically have only modest reductions in circulating testosterone levels.
Keywords: diabetes; glucose metabolism; insulin resistance; obesity; testosterone.