Importance: Countering depressive disorders is a public health priority. Currently, antidepressants are the first-line treatment, although they show modest effects. In men, testosterone treatment is a controversial alternative or adjunct treatment option.
Objectives: To examine the association of testosterone treatment with alleviation of depressive symptoms in men and to clarify moderating effects of testosterone status, depression status, age, treatment duration, and dosage.
Data Sources: English-language studies published in peer-reviewed journals identified from PubMed/Medline, Embase, Scopus, PsychINFO, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register from database inception to March 5, 2018, using the search terms testosterone, mood, administration, dosage, adverse effects, deficiency, standards, therapeutic use, therapy, treatment, and supplementation.
Study Selection: Randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials (RCTs) of testosterone treatment that together cover a broad age range and hypogonadal or eugonadal men reporting depressive symptoms on psychometrically validated depression scales.
Data Extraction and Synthesis: Of 7690 identified records, 469 were evaluated against full study inclusion criteria after removing duplicates, reviews, and studies that did not examine male patients or testosterone. Quality assessment and data extraction from the remaining 27 RCTs were performed.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Primary outcomes were testosterone treatment effectiveness (standardized score difference after treatment), efficacy (proportion of patients who responded to testosterone treatment with a score reduction of 50% or greater), and acceptability (proportion of patients who withdrew for any reason).
Results: Random-effects meta-analysis of 27 RCTs including 1890 men suggested that testosterone treatment is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared with placebo (Hedges g, 0.21; 95% CI, 0.10-0.32), showing an efficacy of odds ratio (OR), 2.30 (95% CI, 1.30-4.06). There was no significant difference between acceptability of testosterone treatment and placebo (OR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.61-1.01). Meta-regression models suggested significant interactions for testosterone treatment with dosage and symptom variability at baseline. In the most conservative bias scenario, testosterone treatment remained significant whenever dosages greater than 0.5 g/wk were administered and symptom variability was kept low.
Conclusions and Relevance: Testosterone treatment appears to be effective and efficacious in reducing depressive symptoms in men, particularly when higher-dosage regimens were applied in carefully selected samples. However, given the heterogeneity of the included RCTs, more preregistered trials are needed that explicitly examine depression as the primary end point and consider relevant moderators.