(CBS) A little testosterone may be beneficial for elderly women suffering from heart failure, according to a new study by scientists in Italy.
Both men and women produce testosterone naturally, and in both sexes, levels of the hormone decline with age. Scientists have linked high testosterone levels to better health in elderly men, but this is one of the first studies to try testosterone therapy on older women with heart trouble.
The scientists may be on to something.
In the study, small doses of testosterone administered via a skin patch improved women's "exercise capacity, muscle strength and insulin sensitivity," Dr. Ferdinando Iellamo, professor of motor science at the University Tor Vergata in Rome, said in a written statement.
For people with heart failure, just walking up a flight of stairs can be exhausting, so the scientists tested the effect of the supplemental testosterone by measuring how far the women could walk in six minutes.
Women who wore the hormone patch had a whopping 36 percent improvement in distance traveled, the scientists found. There were also improvements in the women's breathing ability and declines in their insulin resistance.
Cardiologist Dr. Justin A. Ezekowitz, assistant professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, told USA Today that the therapy is far from being ready "for prime time," and that it needs to be "studied properly and we need to make sure it's safe and holds up in more patients."
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