For thousands of years, explorers have been searching for the Fountain of Youth. Legend has it the elusive fountain contains a restorative source that brings endless vitality to those who drink from its pool.
No one knows what the source is, exactly. It's been called everything from the "water of life" to the "elixir of immortality."
These days, anti-aging specialists simply refer to it as "T."
You'd think T, or testosterone, was pure magic from its advertised results: increased energy, better mental concentration, less fat, more muscle, fewer sleepless nights and a higher sex drive. But experts say altering your body's natural hormone levels can be dangerous if not done properly.
As more FDA-approved products hit the market, the baby boomer generation is taking note. In 2011, consumers spent approximately $1.6 billion on prescription testosterone therapies, almost triple the amount spent in 2006, according to market research company IMS Health.
Dr. Harvey Bartnof is the founder of the California Longevity & Vitality Medical Institute. His practice focuses on age management medicine and hormone replacement therapies for both men and women. He says patients come to him to slow the aging process; they want to remain active and engaged as they grow older.
"We have medications that help people stay alive longer, but the quality of life declines," Bartnof says. "People would rather not go down the pathway of ... mom, dad if they don't have to."
'Viagra for the boardroom'
Testosterone is naturally produced primarily through a man's testes. (The hormone is also found in women, but that's another story.) The hormone helps regulate bone density, fat distribution, muscle strength, red blood cell production, sex drive and sperm production, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Bartnof compares it to oil in a machine -- while other systems make your body "go," hormones such as testosterone grease the wheels so they work smoothly.
The body's production of testosterone peaks in early adulthood and typically declines about 1 percent each year after age 30, according to the Mayo Clinic website. A low testosterone level is called hypoandrogenism.
Symptoms of hypoandrogenism include insomnia, fewer erections, reduced muscle strength, depression, trouble concentrating and hair loss.
In other words, getting old, John Freiburger quips. The 48-year-old financial planner first started feeling the effects of his age a few years ago.
As the founder of an Illinois wealth management firm, he was juggling multiple clients' portfolios a day. He found his concentration in meetings started to fade earlier, even when he made an effort to hit the gym more often and eat right.
"Being in the business that I'm in, you need to be on top of your game," Freiburger says. "For a lot of men, it's like, 'Oh yeah, I'm getting old.' I'm not very good at accepting that it's the way it needs to be."
Up until a few years ago, testosterone was mostly the choice of competitive body builders and professional athletes. Now, everyone from Wall Street executives to corporate office managers are taking what the media has dubbed "Viagra for the boardroom."
Testosterone replacement therapies come in many forms, according to Nelson Vergel, author of "Testosterone: A Man's Guide." The hormone can be injected into muscle, absorbed through the skin via a cream/gel, or released slowly through a small pellet that's inserted into the body. A doctor does regular blood tests to determine the correct dosage.
Freiburger saw results just two days after beginning his hormone therapy. First, his energy levels skyrocketed. Then he saw an increase in his concentration level at work. Soon after, his libido returned, and within a month he was losing weight and putting on muscle at the gym.
"I'm a better person. I'm a better wealth manager," he said. "(I) have the energy, vitality to go conquer the world."
No magic pill