When it comes to size, bigger isn’t always better, and a new study on testicles of all things shows what the consequences of an enlarged package just might be: a connection was found between large testicles and heart disease risk.
Researchers in Italy measured testicle size of more than 2,800 men who sought medical help for sexual dysfunction, and conducted follow up examinations with half of them for seven years. Surprisingly, they found an association between testicle size and risk factors associated with heart disease and heart attacks – namely smoking, heavy drinking, obesity, and high blood pressure.
The findings caught the research team off guard, as larger testicles usually predict a certain level of healthiness. Indeed, Guilia Rasterelli, the lead researcher on the project, conceded, “Although it is generally assumed that testis size can predict reproductive fitness, our results indicate that this objective parameter can provide insights also on overall health and [cardiovascular disease] risk."
The reason behind it all: hormones. Testicle size is controlled by the amount of testosterone present in the body, and testosterone production is regulated in turn by another hormone. This chemical is called luteinizing hormone, or LH for short, and may be responsible for causing problems with the cardiovascular system. However, elevated LH levels would not explain why these men are predisposed to lifestyle risk factors like smoking and drinking.
The jury is still out on the results of the study, and many experts find the results conflicting. Consider the following: testicles in a way are responsible for their own size. If testosterone production is down, the testes will begin to shrink. In order to stop from getting too small, the testes will release some chemical that will signal the release of LH, which will facilitate the production of testosterone, which will bring them back up to size. Physiologically, elevated levels of LH should be seen in men with smaller testicles, those that are desperately trying to up-regulate testosterone production so that they can return to a normal size.
“I think there isn’t a relationship that makes sense here,” said Dr. Andrew Kramer, a urologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The researchers understand this apparent contradiction and admit that another factor, not considered in the study, may be responsible for both the high LH levels and the heart problems.
Finally, due to the unrepresentative population covered in the study – men who sought medical attention due to sexual dysfunction – additional studies must be conducted before results can be applied to the all men, at large.