Almost everyone is familiar with the idea of menopause, the time at which menstruation ceases. Leading up to this biological occurrence, women may suffer from mood swings, changes in libido and sexual function, hot flashes and a wide range of other unpleasant symptoms. While men don’t have a specific event associated with aging the way women do, they still have to deal with the same kinds of symptoms.
A reduction in male hormones with age is known as andropause or male menopause and can have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life. It can even cause serious health problems, like loss of bone density leading to osteoporosis. Here’s a look at andropause, its increasing acceptance in the medical community, and what can be done to keep it from taking over your life.
Like female menopause, andropause occurs due to changes in sex-related hormones, especially testosterone and other androgens. These male hormones are responsible for regulating sex drive, hair growth, metabolism, energy levels and a host of other basic functions. As men age, production of these hormones slows down a lot. This can lead to an androgen deficiency, as well as a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms.
Most guys don’t realize that they’re going through andropause, however. That’s because the drop in masculine hormones occurs over a very long period of time. Men can become deficient in androgens as early as 35 years of age, with levels dropping by about one percent every year. This makes the process of going through male menopause a lot more subtle than the female equivalent, which involves a very sharp drop in hormone production. By the time these men reach middle age, however, they can experience severe symptoms that make their lives much more difficult.
Symptoms of Andropause
The androgen deficiency that happens during male menopause can lead to a host of minor-seeming problems. Many men find themselves feeling irritable, depressed or more tired than usual. Sexual problems, which can be hard to discuss with a doctor, are common as well. Men who are dealing with andropause often have a reduced libido or suffer from trouble maintaining an erection. It’s easy to see these issues as personal failings; but they’re really just a sign that your body isn’t maintaining proper male hormone levels.
Men have been experiencing these symptoms for thousands of years, but their problems haven’t gotten as much attention as more obvious female menopausal issues. The first mainstream study on the condition wasn’t published until the 1940s. Even after doctors drew attention to this problem and the androgen deficiencies that are related to it, most men went without treatment. Many doctors and medical organizations still don’t recognize the tiredness and other problems associated with andropause as legitimate medical problems.
The good news is that in recent years, more medical professionals have started to provide treatment for men who are going through andropause. Some doctors refer to the problem as symptomatic late onset hypogonadism, or SLOH, androgen deficiency of the aging male, or ADAM, or partial androgen deficiencies in aging males (PADAM.) Don’t let these acronyms confuse you, however; they all refer to male menopause and they all use the same treatment techniques.
Male Hormone Supplementation
There’s no one way to treat andropause effectively, but there are some common strategies available. For instance, one of the most common ways to deal with reduced male hormone production is to supplement with hormone replacement therapy. This strategy is commonly used for female menopause, as well as for men who have suffered injury to or loss of their testes. Testosterone is the most common candidate for male hormone replacement. It can be administered via a skin patch, an injection, a gel, an implant or a pill.
Boosting testosterone levels can help treat depression, erectile problems and decreased sex drive, but it does have a few side effects. Men who receive testosterone supplementation may get acne, feel more aggressive, suffer from mood swings or develop infertility. Some find that they grow larger amounts of body hair or suffer from greater levels of male pattern baldness. Men who receive male hormone supplementation are also at an increased risk for breast and prostate cancer. Men who are getting testosterone treatment have to consult their doctors regularly to ensure that they stay in good health.
Artificial supplementation isn’t the only way you can treat an androgen deficiency, however. You can also use more holistic methods like exercise, diet and counseling. Some common foods, including grapefruit, have been implicated in lowering overall testosterone levels. Alcohol consumption can also have a detrimental effect, increasing the risk of sexual dysfunction and potentially affecting male hormone levels. Other substances, including vitamins C and E, zinc and L-arginine, can work to increase testosterone production and even out libido levels. Herbs that act as vasodilators, including ginkgo biloba, can work to fix loss of libido. Consumption of lower-fat foods, soy products and vegetables, especially tomatoes, can reduce the risk of cancer and work to fight malaise and depression.
Exercise plays a big part in the effects of aging on men, too. Androgen deficiencies can lead to loss of bone mass and emotional problems that you can fight by getting regular exercise. For instance, resistance training and weight lifting help build the bones as well as the muscles. Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise, on the other hand, helps keep moods more even and reduces the risk of severe depression or irritability. Exercising just a few hours a week can help men who are going through andropause feel much more normal.
Men can also get a lot of benefits out of reducing their stress levels. The decrease in hormone levels associated with aging can make it harder to deal with job pressure and other stressors. Making a point of reducing your stress level, cutting back on difficult work, and taking the time to relax can help you avoid depression and feel less irritable. That can lead to an overall improvement in your quality of life, no hormones required.
It’s not easy to be diagnosed with male menopause. Many doctors mistake the underlying problem for a different disorder. For instance, a lot of men who have an androgen deficiency will instead be diagnosed with depression. They may receive anti-depressant drugs that treat this specific symptom, but this medication won’t do anything about decreased libido and other related problems. In fact, some medications can actually make symptoms of andropause worse. This kind of misdiagnosis can be dangerous, since it leads both the doctor and the patient to believe that the issue has been treated.
More and more doctors are recognizing the importance of male hormones like testosterone in later life. Since up to 1/3 of men experience androgen deficiencies by the age of 50, it’s important for patients to be aware of potential problems, too. If you feel tired, run-down, easily-annoyed or angry and you’re suffering from problems with sexual desire or function, the problem might be linked to male hormonal levels. Take some time to ask for a test to see if you’re deficient in androgens. A few simple lifestyle and diet changes could be all you need to reclaim your life and feel like your old self again.