Andropause - when men pause
The male equivalent to the menopause in women is called the andropause. While not as obvious an event as the menopause, men do suffer from declining hormone levels with age.
While the female sex hormones rapidly fall in women in their 40s, in men testosterone levels drop more gradually starting much earlier in their 30s. As one doctor explained, 'women suddenly fall off a cliff' while 'men slowly roll down the hill'.
After the age of 30, a man may lose up to two per cent of the function of his testicles (where testosterone is produced) with each succeeding year. In fact, up to 50 per cent of otherwise healthy men over 50 have low levels of testosterone.
TESTOSTERONE - THE MALE HORMONE
A group of several hormones called androgens create and support masculinity, and testosterone is the main androgen responsible for:
- Determining the unborn child's sexual features;
- Influencing an individual's sexual preference;
- Regulating the sex drive in men and women (women do produce small amounts of testosterone);
- Male physical characteristics, including physical strength, emotional assertiveness, body shape, hairiness, tone of voice, and even body odour;
- The production and quality of sperm.
Additionally, testosterone plays a role in developing creativity, intellect, thought patterns, assertiveness and drive. It also affects general health during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
SIGNS OF ANDROPAUSE
In addition to a decrease in sexual desire and erectile function, men with a lowered testosterone level may also notice changes in energy, mood and emotions, a decrease in lean body mass and strength due to a loss of muscle and an increase in body fat. Additional health risks associated with low testosterone levels include an elevation in cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease, bone fractures and clinical depression.
For the man who is concerned about the andropause, special attention must be paid to the following lifestyle issues:
An optimal intake of healthy forms of dietary protein like beans, peas, soy, eggs, fish, nuts and organic poultry is quite important for maintaining testosterone levels. How much protein you need depends on your muscle mass, but the average male usually needs over 125gm of protein daily. One can conveniently increase protein intake using protein shakes and protein snacks. The higher your level of physical activity, the more protein you need.
Add vitamin C and E, the amino acid arginine, DHEA, and herbal supplements such as the ginsengs, saw palmetto, pygeum africanum, stinging nettle, and pumpkin seed to your nutritional programme as these improve male hormone balance. The cellular nutrition programme addresses those needs in a simple way.
It is important to detoxify the body and avoid exposure to harmful chemicals as many of these substances act like the female hormone oestrogen.
EXERCISE AND LOSE FAT
Both a lack of physical exercise as well as excessive physical activity will cause a decrease in testosterone levels. Exercise affects testosterone directly by stimulating the pituitary gland (in the brain) as well as the testicles. The duration, frequency and intensity of the exercise will determine its impact on testosterone levels.
Testosterone is increased most with short, intense bursts of activity (like strength training and weight lifting), and decreased with too prolonged endurance exercise, such as long-distance running, swimming or cycling. Short cycles of intensive exercise (interval training) over about 45 minutes will elevate testosterone, but if prolonged for much longer, the levels begin to fall and stay down for several days. Rest days between workouts are also vital for testosterone production.
It is also critical for men to lose excess abdominal fat, as the fat cells around the waistline make female hormones, and, even worse, can convert the male hormone testosterone into the female hormone oestrogen.
Eliminate all unnecessary medications. Many commonly prescribed drugs affect testosterone levels. This list includes the anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen,
acetaminophen, aspirin, the cholesterol lowering drugs, some heart and blood pressure medication and some antidepressants. Many of these 'lifestyle medicines' may be actually treating the symptoms of testosterone deficiency ineffectively, and you may no longer need them when your testosterone levels are normal.
Minimise or avoid alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking can increase the levels of female hormones and inhibit the body's ability to produce testosterone. By staying away from alcohol you will improve the balance between your male and female hormones.
REST AND SUNSHINE
Try getting close to eight hours of sleep nightly. If you are chronically sleep deprived, your testosterone status will suffer. Aim to have some direct exposure to sunlight daily. Be outdoors for at least one hour each day. Testosterone rises and falls with the seasons, and sunshine is necessary for healthy body rhythms and optimal testosterone production.
There is a strong relationship between stress and physical wellness that is largely related to hormones. The right kind of stress (eustress) positively impacts on our hormones, but chronic stress can be devastating. Ongoing emotional stress and depression are common causes of decreased testosterone levels, leading to premature ageing. Commit to learning healthy stress-management techniques.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a powerful medical treatment for the andropause that often produces dramatic improvement in the symptoms and a reduction in the risks. It involves giving back testosterone to the body to restore normal levels. This kind of treatment should be supervised by a health-care professional that is experienced in HRT.
- You may email Dr Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available on his website www.tonyvendryes.com.