Have you ever wondered why there is so much emphasis on women’s midlife hormonal changes (menopause) but there doesn’t appear to be a similar change in men? Why is that?
The reality is that there is such thing as male menopause. It is officially called andropause and is the time after middle age where there is a decline in function of the man’s reproductive organs and consequently the hormones they produce. Since men don’t have menstrual cycles the change is generally less noticeable than in women, but the changes of andropause have been known since the early 1940s. While symptoms similar to those seen in andropause may be due to other health conditions, for many men this drop in testosterone can directly cause health effects such as mood changes, fatigue, decreased sexual function, and a decrease in lean muscle mass. In addition to this, in the same way that a drop in estrogen levels in women can accelerate bone loss and lead to osteoporosis, it has been shown that declining testosterone levels also cause similar bone loss in men. Since women are affected by osteoporosis five times more frequently than men, oftentimes symptoms of osteoporosis in men is overlooked until it has progressed to the point where fractures have already occurred.
In case you’re wondering, andropause cannot be corrected with a shiny new sports car or sudden interest in extreme sports, but there are ways to help maintain testosterone levels and reap the benefits that this hormone does provide. While some of the decline in testosterone is a normal process, other factors such as high stress levels, physical and psychiatric illness, obesity, and malnutrition can all affect the central nervous system in ways that influence testosterone levels. If any of these conditions are present, they should be the first to be addressed for optimal health. As one of the guiding principles of Naturopathic Medicine states, first identify and treat the cause.
If the aforementioned health conditions are not present, it is possible to support the body’s own production of testosterone or, under a doctors supervision, provide testosterone replacement therapy. Potential benefits of this include increased lean muscle mass, osteoporosis prevention, increased sexual function, and even a slowing of the cognitive impairment that can accompany andropause. To date the research on an association between testosterone replacement and prostate cancer has not shown an increased risk, but appropriate levels do need to be maintained and monitored for cardiovascular health.
Are declining testosterone levels a natural part of the aging process? The answer is clearly yes. Declining testosterone levels are not an inherent problem for all men and do not necessarily predict future illness. This being said, there is evidence that for some men, moderating this change can have positive health implications as they continue to age after 40.
Dr. Kraft is a Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed acupuncturist. He may be reached at Health Moves 17311 135th Ave NE Ste. C-800 Woodinville, 425.402.9999 or www.HealthMoves.org