Until a few years ago, doctor Lionel Bissoon, who practises what he calls integrative medicine on Manhattan’s smart Upper West Side, mostly treated middle-aged women for what is politely known as cellulite. Then the financial crisis hit Wall Street and a strange thing happened: a stream of financial executives and traders began coming to him in the hope of being turned into alpha males.
Dr Bissoon, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, now specialises in treating men for testosterone deficiency. While impotence is often thought of as the main symptom of low levels of the hormone, it turns out that financial executives are hoping the hormone will sharpen their faculties and make them more competitive in the workplace at a time when many companies are sending underperforming employees into early retirement.
“Since the recession started, more guys want to be on top of their game,” says Dr Bissoon. “All of these men are under tons of stress, and stress will reduce their levels of testosterone. As one patient told me: ‘There’s a whole bunch of whizz-kids beneath me who are ready to take my place.’ ”
America’s inventive medical industry has even coined a new term to describe this ailment: andropause. Its reported symptoms include a lack of energy, drive and enthusiasm, not to mention a lower libido. One pharmaceuticals company, Abbott Laboratories, is even running TV adverts that ask viewers if they suffer from “Low T”. It shows a middle-aged man unable to keep up with the hectic pace of the modern world in both the office and on the dance floor.
Demand for treatment has increased to such an extent that a Las Vegas-based company called Cenegenics plans to open a centre offering male hormone treatment near the NYSE in March.
Dr Bissoon says that when he first started offering testosterone therapy, he thought most of his clients would be gym rats hoping to build Arnold Schwarzenegger-style physiques. “I was surprised that 90 per cent of my patients have some involvement in the finance industry,” he says. “They are upper-level management and most of them are in their 30s and 40s.”
They typically complain of exhaustion after working Stakhanovite hours, an inability to focus and a general malaise about work. While some argue that too much testosterone, machismo and aggressive risk-taking are partly to blame for the financial crisis, many Wall Street workers apparently believe similar traits will give them the competitive edge to survive the downturn. With thousands of jobs expected to be shed within months, Dr Bissoon says that there is a pervasive fear among his patients that individuals who do not outperform will be summarily replaced.
Take John, a 40-year-old executive at a venture capital firm, who asked that his last name not be used. He went to Dr Bissoon feeling lethargic and unable to handle the 12-hour working days common at his firm. His regular doctor told him he was probably stressed out and depressed and should take antidepressants, which he felt did not adequately address his problem. “Wall Street is a play hard, work hard environment,” John says. “I now have a bit more of an alpha male personality, and I’m able to get by on less sleep. It’s the positive side of aggression. You change your mentality and start looking positively at the future.”
Testosterone deficiency is technically known as hypogonadism. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism says the condition can be difficult to diagnose because there are so many vague symptoms. The treatment is still controversial because of concerns, yet to be proved, that testosterone can fuel the growth of prostate cancer in men who have latent cancer cells in their prostate glands. As a result, many mainstream physicians still refuse to prescribe testosterone therapy for men over 40.
Dr Bissoon provides his patients with testosterone only after giving them a thorough blood screening that includes a cardiac profile and tests for liver, colon and prostate cancer. He also provides nutritional advice to deal with stress in addition to testing for such conditions as unusually high levels of oestrogen, the female hormone.
Dr Bissoon maintains that taking testosterone enables many men to focus more clearly and exude confidence on the job. “If you’re going to be trading on Wall Street or dealing with large sums of money, you had better be confident,” he says. “The man who is wishy-washy is not going to be successful.”
Dr Bissoon will soon face competitive pressures of his own when the Cenegenics clinic near the NYSE opens. Revenues at the company, which has 20 centres around the US with 20,000 patients, have increased from $37m in 2007 to $60m in 2011.
Cenegenics offers a deluxe treatment programme, but it is perhaps only someone with a Wall Street bonus who can afford it. For a $4,000 initial fee, a nurse even comes to collect your blood in the privacy of your own home. The patient then spends an entire day being probed and tested for a range of ageing-related issues at one of the company’s centres – not only for hormone levels, but also for such problems as vitamin D deficiency.
The company uses a 70-year-old doctor named Jeffry Life (pictured) as a television pitchman. Dr Life looks like his balding jowly face has been Photoshopped on to the toned and muscled body of a much younger man. The commercial also shows another doctor with a much younger female companion who smiles and nods appreciatively when he talks about improvements to his libido.
“The business has really done well, especially these past two years,” says Michale Barber, a physician in Charleston, South Carolina who was one of the first to sign up with Cenegenics 15 years ago. Each centre is independently operated by a physician who signs a partnership agreement with the Cenegenics firm in Las Vegas, and they share the profits.
Another sign that business is booming is that sales of testosterone injections, timed-release pellets and creams are increasing. For example, Abbott Laboratories, which acquired a testosterone cream called Androgel when it bought the pharmaceuticals business of Belgian chemical company Solvay for $6bn in 2009, says worldwide sales from the cream were $875m in 2011 – an increase of 35 per cent on the previous year.
Dr Bissoon says he even has a number of female patients from Wall Street who take testosterone because they want to appear more confident. They get much smaller doses than men because there is a risk they might grow facial hair or display other male characteristics.
However, that raises the question: are macho, testosterone-fuelled traders really better at making money? A study in 2001 by two economists at the University of California, Davis, called Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence and Common Stock Investment, showed that men trade shares 45 per cent more often than women and that this reduces their net earnings compared with female investors.
The reason: men are too overconfident.