Effects of Testosterone Supplementation on Ghrelin and Appetite During and After Severe Energy Deficit in Healthy Men

J Endocr Soc. 2020 Mar 3;4(4):bvaa024. doi: 10.1210/jendso/bvaa024. eCollection 2020 Apr 1.


Background: Severe energy deficits cause interrelated reductions in testosterone and fat free mass. Testosterone supplementation may mitigate those decrements, but could also reduce circulating concentrations of the orexigenic hormone ghrelin, thereby exacerbating energy deficit by suppressing appetite.

Objective: To determine whether testosterone supplementation during severe energy deficit influences fasting and postprandial ghrelin concentrations and appetite.

Design and methods: Secondary analysis of a randomized, double-blind trial that determined the effects of testosterone supplementation on body composition changes during and following severe energy deficit in nonobese, eugonadal men. Phase 1 (PRE-ED): 14-day run-in; phase 2: 28 days, 55% energy deficit with 200 mg testosterone enanthate weekly (TEST; n = 24) or placebo (PLA; n = 26); phase 3: free-living until body mass recovered (end-of-study; EOS). Fasting and postprandial acyl ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin concentrations and appetite were secondary outcomes measured during the final week of each phase.

Results: Fasting acyl ghrelin concentrations, and postprandial acyl and des-acyl ghrelin concentrations increased in PLA during energy deficit then returned to PRE-ED values by EOS, but did not change in TEST (phase-by-group, P < 0.05). Correlations between changes in free testosterone and changes in fasting acyl ghrelin concentrations during energy deficit (ρ = -0.42, P = 0.003) and body mass recovery (ρ = -0.38; P = 0.01) were not mediated by changes in body mass or body composition. Transient increases in appetite during energy deficit were not affected by testosterone treatment.

Conclusions: Testosterone supplementation during short-term, severe energy deficit in healthy men prevents deficit-induced increases in circulating ghrelin without blunting concomitant increases in appetite.

Clinical trials registration: www.clinicaltrials.gov NCT02734238 (registered 12 April 2016).

Keywords: androgen; hypogonadism; hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis; military; weight cycling.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02734238