Male Menopause affects 20% of men over 60 and 30-40% of men over 80, yet even men in their 30’s can experience its symptoms. So what is this whole male menopause thing about anyway? Does it really exist? Is it as inevitable and life-changing as female menopause?
According to most doctors, yes and no. It is controversial. Yes, there is a shift in hormonal balance with men but no, it’s typically not as abrupt, persistent and accompanied by as many side effects as female menopause.
It is true that older men tend to have lower testosterone levels than younger men. From around the age of 30 men decrease testosterone levels on an average of about 1% per year. The term “male menopause” is sometimes used to describe decreasing testosterone levels or a reduction in the bioavailability of testosterone related to aging. Female menopause and so-called male menopause are two different animals, however. In women, ovulation ends and hormone production plummets during a relatively short period of time. In men, hormone production and testosterone bioavailability decline over a period of many years and the consequences aren’t necessarily clear.
Many doctors use the term “andropause” to describe aging-related hormone changes in men. Other terms include testosterone deficiency syndrome, androgen deficiency of the aging male and late-onset male hypogonadism.
So how do we know if we’re experiencing low testosterone? The possible symptoms may include physical changes such as increased belly fat, reduced muscle bulk, and decreased bone density. It is interesting in that these are also symptoms of physical deconditioning over time from a lack of exercise with an accompanying increase in beer consumption.
So additional symptoms may include swollen or tender breasts and a loss of body hair. Some men might also experience hot flashes and a lack of energy. And don’t expect a whole lot of sympathy from your partner on this one. Interesting too, is the fact that it’s the body’s increased production of estrogen, from the additional fat, particularly belly fat that causes these symptoms. So we get into a kind of chicken and the egg dilemma. Does the male menopause cause us to have pot bellies and experience these symptoms or does having a pot belly actually cause us to experience the symptoms of male menopause? Hmmm….
Men with low testosterone levels may also experience changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia and or increased sleepiness. But we’re again back to the chicken and the egg thing with this symptom too because disturbances in your sleep pattern can actually cause low testosterone AND low testosterone can cause a loss in sleep patterns.
One of the biggie symptoms that may get us men to stand up and take notice, so to speak, are changes to our sexual function. These changes may include reduced sexual desire, fewer spontaneous erections during sleep, infertility and erectile dysfunction. That can have a huge effect on our lives and the lives of our partner. It is estimated that 30 million American men suffer from erectile dysfunction at some time in their lives. Erectile dysfunction drugs was a $4.3 billion dollar market in 2012. That’s a lot of Viagra. Oh, and your testicles may actually become smaller. Talk about adding insult to injury. I guess that’s where the term hypogonadacism comes from.
And all these symptom’s quite naturally and logically lead to the next common symptom of low testosterone, which is depression and all of its’ accompanying symptoms.
So, let’s go on to something that may be a bit more encouraging, especially if you’re experiencing some of these symptoms. So if you suspect that you may be experiencing low testosterone levels the first thing to do is get a blood test. A blood test is the quick and easy way to tell for sure if you have low testosterone. So suck it up, go to the doctor and tell him or her about your concerns. He or she will most likely order the blood test and then you will then know for sure either way.
If you find out that you do have low testosterone levels than you most likely will have some options open to you. Your doctor may recommend hormonal replacement to get those testosterone levels back up to where you want them. There are several different delivery methods for this kind of therapy such as injection, patches, creams or pills. Each have their positive and negative effects.
Hormonal replacement therapy has varying results with each man. About 10% of men are ecstatic from the result while another 10% of men show no discernable improvement at all over their symptoms. Most men fall somewhere in the middle with some positive results to varying degrees. Men who receive hormone replacement therapy typically show some improvement in body fat, bone density, mood, and sex drive, though it should be noted this was not accompanied by a significant improvement of the all-important erectile dysfunction symptom. Some men on hormone replacement still required additional methods to help with this problem.
Of course there are risks associated with hormonal replacement therapies. Due to the fact that it increases the red blood count, which thickens the blood, there may be an increased risk of stroke. So it’s important to work with your doctor to carefully monitor red-blood count.
The other big worry is prostate cancer. Again, there may be good news and bad new here. In some studies, the increased levels of testosterone actually seem to inhibit the initial growth of cancer cells but once prostate cancer is present than testosterone may increase their rate of growth. About 50% of men over 50 harbor cancer cells in their prostate that is very slow growing and not causing any symptoms or harm. It’s a concern that these cells may increase their growth rate from the new supercharged level of testosterone from the replacement therapy.
Some doctors require a prostate biopsy before performing hormonal replacement therapy. Many doctors believe that bringing the testosterone levels back to “normal” levels is better for the body on many levels than having low testosterone. Also, due to the relatively new use of hormonal replacement therapy for men there haven’t been any studies to look at the long-term benefits or effects.
Another potential side effect is Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy or BPH for short. The prostate grows under the stimulation of testosterone so for many men, their prostates grow as they age causing a narrowing of the urethra and thus more difficulty urinating. This condition can be made worse by Hormone Replacement therapy.
Another potential side effect is sleep apnea where breathing while sleeping starts and stops during the night. This is potentially a very dangerous condition which can lead to serious cardio-vascular issues.The best thing is to check with your doctor to determine if this is a course of action that would make sense for you if you have low testosterone.
Another natural way to possibly raise those hormone levels is by exercise. Regular exercise has been clinically proven to raise your testosterone levels…and look at all the positive side affects you can expect.
Regular exercise will help you to get rid of that body fat which has been dragging your testosterone levels down. It also helps significantly with improving your mood by naturally shooting you up with endorphin, or the happy hormone. Exercise will also lower your risk of not just cancer, but a multitude of diseases that typically are associated with aging. Exercise will help to improve your sleep which has also been dragging those hormones down. Exercise will increase energy levels, improve muscle tone, strengthen your heart, reduce stress, and strengthen and build bones.
When you look at it like this it’s kind of a no brainer isn’t it? Just 20-30 minutes several times a week is what you need and it can be fun. It can be WAY more fun that having to go through hormonal replacement therapy.
Changing your diet in conjunction with exercise is a great one-two punch for ramping those hormones back up to normal. Start eating a more plant-based diet with fresh veggies, fruits and lean protein. Avoid processed food and too much red meat.
There a lot of “natural” supplements advertised to bring those hormones of yours back to life but you would be wise to maintain a healthy level of skepticism as to the safety and veracity of their health claims. Just because somebody is a doctor selling some supplement doesn’t mean that it works. And Just because something is natural does not mean it’s safe and the food supplement industry is rampant with optimistic health claims that aren’t backed by science-backed research and so the operate word here is to be cautious.
So, there you have it. The poop on male menopause. If you think that you may have symptoms of it than get yourself a blood test and take it from there. If you don’t show any symptoms and you just want to avoid it completely than I believe the best course of action is to get yourself into a healthy lifestyle including regular vigorous exercise, a healthy diet, watch your weight, practice good sleeping habits and avoid stress. I think that this will give you your best chance at maintaining a healthy testosterone level and all the perks that accompany that.
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