The male menopause and mental health
You have probably heard of the menopause in women, but did you know men go through a similar hormonal change as they age? The male menopause, or andropause, is often triggered when men reach their 40s.
In fact, as many as 30 per cent of men can expect some sort of physical change to their bodies when they reach this age. But with such little exposure to information, this sudden shift in mental attitude and physical ability can come as a real shock.
WHAT IS MALE MENOPAUSE
The male menopause is the name given to an age-related change in the hormone levels of men. There are several factors which could cause a person to enter this stage of their life.
Some of the most common include:
• Testosterone deficiency
• Increasing SHBG levels
• Reduced pituitary function
• Reduced production of testosterone by the testicles
• Increasing insulin resistance/onset of diabetes.
• In all of these cases, it’s the dramatic reduction in the amount of testosterone the body produces which causes the menopause to kick in. While these factors won’t affect everyone as they age, it can have a huge impact on individuals who do see a dip in production.
THE IMPACT OF TESTOSTERONE ON A MAN
Testosterone is a hormone which has been closely associated with the concept of being ‘manly’ for decades. And while things are a little less black and white than that, it’s certainly true that the amount a man produces will have a direct impact on his behaviour and physical and mental health.
There are a host of areas which are controlled by the amount of testosterone in your body. Those include:
• Heart: Testosterone increases your cardiac output, while also helping to keep the coronary and peripheral blood flow smooth and continuous.
• Brain: Cognition, memory and feeling are all affected by testosterone in the brain, as well as a man’s sex drive.
• Kidneys: Red blood cell production decreases when there’s less testosterone in your system. This happens because erythropoietin production is halted or reduced.
• Muscles: The mass and strength of your muscles are directly impacted by the amount of testosterone in your body.
• Sexual organs: Sperm production and prostate health are both directly affected by a lack of testosterone. Erectile dysfunction is also not uncommon.
With so many parts of the male anatomy affected by testosterone, it’s not hard to see why some people see the male menopause as a genuine threat for their later years.
FACT OR FICTION?
‘Male menopause’ is commonly used as a title because it affects men as they age, and has similar symptoms to the female menopause. But is it the same?
In truth, not quite. The term is something of a misleading tag line. While there is a very real change which happens to some men at a certain point in their life, the name itself encompasses a lot of different conditions.
The one key link between them all? A large dip in that all-important testosterone. While some people see the term as a simple way of describing the loss of this hormone, others would suggest that inaccurately grouping these conditions under one umbrella is a risky practice.
The minor controversy over the name stems from the fact that this, unlike female menopause, is not something which all men will naturally experience in their lives.
It’s very common for a man’s testosterone levels to decrease by as much as one per cent every year after the age of 40. This is not the same as late-onset hypogonadism or androgen deficiency, which can see a much larger sudden dip in levels.
It’s for this reason some medical professionals like to steer clear of the term male menopause altogether. It’s natural for testosterone levels to lower, but extreme cases are a condition in and of themselves.
So, is the male menopause real? Well, yes and no. While you won’t definitely experience this drastic shift in hormone levels, there’s roughly a one-in-three chance you could. Just don’t take the slightest change in levels when you’re 50 to mean you’re going through ‘the change’.
DIRECT EFFECT ON MENTAL HEALTH
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sudden loss of such a core hormone can have a huge impact on someone’s mental health. Let’s take a closer look at how someone might struggle if they find themselves experiencing the male menopause.
Owing to the importance of testosterone’s role in your brain, there’ll be very direct and noticeable changes to your general attitude. While this won’t always be negative, there are circumstances and symptoms which can lower your mood:
• Memory loss: As you age, your cognitive function begins to decrease. This is what triggers memory loss in most older people. Some studies have recently linked this dip in memory retention to lowered levels of testosterone.
• Concentration levels: It’s not that you’ll necessarily find yourself distracted more often, but rather just struggle to follow the flow of a normal conversation. Being distracted is natural, but if you’re finding it a struggle to keep up in one-on-one chats, you may want to get assessed.
• Sex drive: The libido is one of the key areas of the mind which is affected by a loss of T-levels. While it won’t necessarily be as a result of problems maintaining an erection, this can also be a factor.
You might begin to feel like a different person if you’re experiencing the male menopause. Remember, if you’re ever having dark thoughts it’s important to talk about it with someone you trust.
INDIRECT EFFECT ON MENTAL HEALTH
Sometimes the fallout from other issues someone experiences during the male menopause will cause them to have further problems in the future. These secondary, indirect, conditions can be just as damaging as those which are caused as a direct medical result of your situation.