Low Testosterone Precedes Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints, especially in the hands and feet. It is an often-painful condition, which in advanced stages can be associated with significant damage and deformity to the bones and joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disorder, which involves the body’s immune system attacking and damaging it own tissues. Though it occurs in both sexes, the disease is predominantly found in women. Sex steroids have long been believed to play some role in RA, given the strong gender disparity, as well as the known influence sex steroids have on the immune system. A new study published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases seems to strengthen this association.
Previous studies have found men with RA to have lower levels of testosterone than healthy controls. It has been unclear, however, if such hormonal deficiencies come about as a result of the disease, or precede its onset. In this paper, researchers at Lund University in Sweden addressed the question with the help of stored blood samples from a population-based health survey (1). The samples were cross-linked to national RA registers, and those of a matched set of controls. After controlling for smoking and body mass, the researchers found a significant association between low testosterone and the later onset of rheumatoid arthritis. This research suggests that testosterone may play a role in protecting men from the disease. Further research is needed into the link between hypogonadism (low testosterone) and RA.