Like it or not, men reach their peak at around age 17… before they can even vote! We mean testosterone-wise, of course.
Could this hormone’s decline cause specific symptoms, like a male version of menopause? Or are the symptoms merely normal signs of aging?…
Although andropause isn’t medically recognized, the various changes that come with it are no less real. Careful not to confuse this syndrome with a mid-life crisis!
While the peak of the male hormone par excellence lasts only a few years, it starts its long but certain decline at age 30, reaching about half its peak level by the time you hit 80. In some men, the hormone noticeably starts to slump between age 45 and 65, causing a range of symptoms. This phenomenon is sometimes called andropause, but it can also be referred to as hypogonadism, male menopause, or colloquially, “manopause.” It doesn’t get as much airplay as (female) menopause, probably because andropause affects only 2% to 5% of men.
Andropause isn’t yet recognized by the medical community, likely because the link between age, falling hormone levels and the symptoms is not always clear-cut. The symptoms can co-occur with very common causal factors other than testosterone:
- side effects from medications
- thyroid problems
- alcohol abuse
Testosterone levels can also be affected by problems other than age, such as obstructive sleep apnea. It’s therefore important to start by treating the underlying causes.
What does andropause look like?
A low testosterone level can lead to an array of symptoms:
- First, changes in sexual function can result in erectile dysfunction, lack of libido, fewer spontaneous erections and infertility. Note that some symptoms can also be caused by an enlarged prostate, which can be treated with saw palmetto.
- Then come the sleep disorders. Some men suffer from insomnia, while others feel sleepy or overly fatigued.
- Emotional problems can also arise, such as a lack of motivation, depression, memory loss and an inability to concentrate.
- And last but not least, there are physical changes, which can include loss of muscle mass and strength, an increase in body fat (especially around the middle), decreased bone density, reduced pilosity (body hair) and in some cases, breast growth. Although rare, hot flashes are not unheard of. To relieve them, sage is particularly effective, and because it has no direct effect on hormones themselves, it’s as useful for men as it is for women.
While a drop in testosterone levels is sometimes accompanied by the increased likelihood of purchasing a flashy sports car, the latter is thought to be due to the proverbial midlife crisis rather than to hormones. The period of self-questioning that many men go through between the ages of 40 and 50, some more successfully than others, is not directly linked to plummeting testosterone levels.
Who is affected?
By no means are all men affected by testosterone levels dropping so much that symptoms appear. There are a few risk factors, and if you know what to look for, it’s easier to make lifestyle adjustments in response.
- Medications and/or excessive alcohol or marijuana consumption
- Excess weight, especially around the waist
- Diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- A sedentary lifestyle
Note that stress, excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle are a closely linked trio that you can avoid running into if you stick to a good exercise routine and a healthy diet.
Foods to focus on
- Dietary fibre: fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish and flax seeds, or in supplement form
In addition to doing cardiovascular exercises to promote heart health and weight loss, you also need to do exercises that will help prevent the loss of bone density:
- Choose activities during which you’re supporting your own weight, such as running, playing badminton, dancing, skating, playing soccer, and so on.
- Simple resistance exercises involving your own body, like push-ups and planks, or those that involve lifting weights like dumbbells or stretching with elastics.
While some products can be used to relieve specific symptoms like stress or insomnia, over-the-counter products containing testosterone should be avoided, as testosterone delivered orally can be toxic to the liver. The effectiveness of medical treatments involving gel-based testosterone for andropause is contested and poses risks: ask your doctor about it!
Contrary to what some people believe, testosterone isn’t something found under the hood of a sports car… But if it makes you happy, why not?