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Wall Street's Secret Weapon for Getting an Edge

Wednesday, 11 Jul 2012 | 2:48 PM ET

Traders on Wall Street are always looking to get an edge and pull ahead, especially in this catch-a-falling knife market. The latest secret weapon isn’t some complex trade or computer algorithm, it’s something more primal — testosterone.

M.G. Mooij | Getty Images

Testosterone has been blamed for many a bar fight but some aging traders and executives — and aging on Wall Street means 30 and up — who feel these young kids breathing down their necks and the economic screws tightening, say boosting their testosterone levels has helped them get their edge back.

Testosterone levels in men tend to be anywhere from 150 to 850 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), depending on age and other factors. Testosterone levels typically start to decline after age 30. For some men, as they get older, those levels fall to 200 or below. "Low T" as its been branded, has been attributed to that sluggish feeling, muscle aches, belly fat, low stamina, low sex drive and lack of focus that many just attribute to the aging process.

One of the most widely known ads for Low T is of a shirtless 64-year-old man whose head looks like a 64-year old, but whose ripped body looks like that of a man half his age. That’s for a Las Vegas-based mega-clinic called Cenegenics, which has 20 centers and 20,000 patients in the U.S. They opened a Wall Street clinic a year and a half ago in the Trump Building on Wall Street. And, while some other businesses on Wall Street were floundering during the recession, their business tripled. So much so that they’re hiring more doctors and moving to a bigger space by year end.

Dr. George Shapiro, the CEO and chief medical officer of the Wall Street clinic, was a cardiologist for 20 years when he decided to seek treatment from Cenegenics to get his energy, focus and muscle tone back. After becoming a patient, he was such a believer, he joined Cenegenics as a doctor to help other men — and a few women — who were similarly struggling with symptoms most just chalked up to the aging process, figuring there was nothing they could do about it.

“I get feedback within two to four weeks” from patients, Shapiro said. “Their lives have changed. It’s a 180-degree turnaround. They say they can’t believe they felt this way for so long and it was something that could be helped.”

Dr. Lionel Bissoon had a practice on the upper west side of Manhattan doing a booming business in Botox and cellulite treatments. That all but dried up during the recession. He said one day he walked in and he had no patients on the calendar. He decided he wasn’t taking the recession lying down, so he shifted his practice to testosterone treatment. At first, he was worried he was just going to get a bunch of gym rats who wanted to pump it up. To his surprise, most of the people who walked through his door were guys who worked in the financial-services industry and who were beaten down during the recession and looking to get an edge with anything they could get their hands on.

They all had common complaints: “’Doctor, I’m tired. I’m run down. My muscles are sore. I get home and I don’t want to play with my kids. I feel my creativity slipping. I don’t wake up with morning erections,’” Bissoon said. "I said, 'If you wake up in the morning and the only thing stiff is your back, you should be taking testosterone!'"

The treatments are aimed at getting a patient’s testosterone level up to an optimal range, around 850 to 900, Bissoon said.

He said about 90 percent of his patients are guys who work in finance — traders, CEOs, upper-level management. And it’s not just the little guys or executives from small companies. He’s got patients from some of the biggest names in finance, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America , American Express , and Morgan Stanley.

The patient list at Cenegenics also reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, traders from the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq and a lot of hedge funds.

Many complain that they used to love going to work but now they’re losing their edge. Their head’s not in the game as much.

In the greed-is-goodera of the 70s and 80s, Wall Street stress was treated with antidepressants and antacids drugs that didn’t treat some of the symptoms associated with low testosterone like low energy and sex drive.

Boosting a person’s testosterone levels — and yes, it can be done for women as well as men, just in much smaller doses — can come in different forms: injections or topical creams. Testosterone in any form requires a prescription from a doctor. The dosage varies by patient and form — injections tend to be done a couple times a week and creams applied every day. Doctors caution that the cream isn’t for everyone, particularly those with small children, a pregnant spouse or pets in the house, since it can rub off your skin for many hours after application and could cause unwanted side effects in family members or pets.

Brian Pasalich, a partner at a financial-services firm, said he used to be really athletic and had a driven personality. At 35, he started having a hard time sleeping, was hitting a wall at 3pm, was having more mood swings and losing his sex drive. He considered some of the larger clinics like Cenegenics, which work on a retainer and cost $1,000 and up and a month for integrative hormone, diet and exercise regiments, but he ultimately opted to go with Dr. Bissoon. Bissoon said his services and tests typically cost around $1,000 for the whole year, plus roughly $500 for testosterone and other medication, though some of that is covered by insurance.

After a thorough exam and analysis from Dr. Bissoon, Pasalich opted for the testosterone shots. He gets them twice a week and said after two weeks, he began to start seeing a big difference.

“I had more energy. I was back to my old self. My mood was better. I was happier my sex drive was back and it helped my attitude,” Pasalich said. It also made him sharper.

“No doubt about it. When I was lower (testosterone), I was easily distracted. I felt drained and my energy was gone. Not as focused. For the first time in my life, I had started to see myself not as the young guy but as the experienced guy,” he said. “You need energy to deal with things. Now, it’s easier for me to handle because I have the energy and focus to deal with it. This is like how you feel after a cup of coffee — you’re awake and can do anything!”

Now 38, Pasalich said, “I feel like I’m in my early 30s! People say I don’t look my age I act younger — and look younger! Haha.”

Indeed, Pasalich said he not only has more energy in his professional life, but his personal life as well. He said sometimes he stays out until 3 or 4 in the morning, something that makes most people over 40 tired just thinking about it!

Testosterone isn’t a one-time deal — you have to keep taking it to keep your levels up. Just to give his body a break, Pasalich said he takes the shots twice a week for about three months, then takes a month off. He actually feels the difference during that month of having lower testosterone levels.

IT'S COMPLETELY LEGAL

One risk manager for a big fixed-income trading desk said he suspects a few of the older guys on the desk are taking testosterone to try to fend off the younger guys gunning for their jobs. These guys, who are in their mid- to late 40s, suddenly have the energy to work later and even come back to the office after happy hour. They’re taking positions themselves that, in good times, they wouldn’t have touched — they would’ve passed on to a second-year analyst.

Bissoon said he’s heard that from patients as well — that suddenly, they have so much energy, they’re asking for more work.

At most companies, “nobody ever comes back and says they want more work!” he quipped.

Another guy on that fixed-income desk, a controller in his early 50s, told colleagues he gets testosterone shots because he has a girlfriend who is a lot younger than him — and she “wears him out!”

Testosterone is completely legal when prescribed by a doctor. It doesn’t show up on standard drug tests, which test for recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The only way it would show up on a test is if you were being tested for steroids, which tests for testosterone levels. Most office workers aren’t subjected to a steroid test but Bissoon said that even if you are, as long as you have a prescription from your doctor that shows you have a medically necessary reason for boosting your testosterone levels, there is nothing illegal about it.

One former investment banker said the craziest/dumbest thing he’d ever heard of was a contractor who instead of buying expensive testosterone the right way, he got it from China and injected it himself. Now that would be illegal – not to mention dangerous.

That former investment banker, who also lifts weights, said he knows a couple of guys who’ve done testosterone legally, though they wouldn’t admit it was to give them an edge at work — they touted the benefits in the gym and in the bedroom.

And, while he’s not even 30 yet, he said he’s thought about trying it himself.

“Over the past year or so, I feel like my energy level, ability to recover from exercise has gone down noticeably,” he said. “I don’t feel like I can get by on five hours of sleep a night like I used to.”

“It’s not about being a steroid guy,” Pasalich said. “It’s about getting back to where you were and feeling good.”

David Nickle, a 55-year-old civil engineer and also a patient of Dr. Bissoon, had a similar experience. A former high school football player, he found the older he got, the worse he felt and the less stamina he had. It was getting so bad, he stopped going to the gym because he couldn’t get through an entire workout without getting tired. He was dubious at first, but was opted to give testosterone cream a try. “It literally changed my life! My mood is higher. I might be mildly more aggressive but I don’t know that that is worse than before!” he said.

Some foods can help naturally boost your testosterone levels, including oysters, eggs, beef, broccoli and cabbage. Exercise can also help boost testosterone levels.

Not a lot of guys on Wall Street are willing to talk about testosterone or, if they are, it's to tout the sexual benefits. But Pasalich said he hopes by talking about it, it will make it less taboo — and generate more interest in testosterone research.

For now, it may be Wall Street's secret but it's no secret that it's been a boost for business for the doctors willing to dabble in the arts of testosterone and anti-aging.

A TESTOSTERONE-FUELED SUMMER

Bissoon said the summer used to be a slow time when appointments trailed off by 50 percent. He didn’t lose patients, rather, they just weren’t coming in for appointments during the summer because they were off having fun in the Hamptons or wherever.

But this summer, with Wall Street on edge about everything from Europe to the U.S. economy falling off a “fiscal cliff” when tax increases and spending cuts are expected to simultaneously occur, his business is running at full throttle.

“The summer has traditionally been dead for me. If I saw 4 to 5 patients I’d consider it a great day,” he said. “Yesterday (a Thursday), I saw 15 people,” Bissoon said. He also used to take Fridays off in the summer. Last Friday? He was booked solid with 12 appointments.

His remarks echo complaints from Wall Streetearlier this summer that this would be the third straight summer that they couldn’t just sell in May and go away and relax. Rather, they had to remain at their desks and tethered to their BlackBerrys.

Bissoon said he started out advertising his business by buying keywords on Internet searches like low testosterone, anti-aging and testosterone-replacement treatment. over 120 keywords. Now, most of his business is word-of-mouth.

Shapiro said the same thing.

“Every guy that comes in here is a walking billboard,” he said. “Guys will look and say, ‘Hey, Joey. You’re looking great. What are you doing?”

For Bissoon, whose Botox and cellulite business literally evaporated during the recession, testosterone — and the Wall Street guys it has attracted — was the thing that saved his business.

Nobody ever talked about what happened to the medical profession during the recession, Bissoon said.” A lot of my plastic surgery friends were in dire straits. The lipo people were going nuts. I had physician friends on unemployment!”

Switching to testosterone therapy was literally a game changer.

“We decided to opt out of the recession,” Bissoon said.

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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