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Male Menopause – Does It Really Exist?

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Technically there is no such thing as male menopause because the word menopause actually means a pause and eventually a cessation of the menses cycle. This is caused by a drastic drop in estrogen levels at a specific time in a woman’s life, usually mid forties to mid fifties.  On the other hand, males also experience hormone loss but very gradually after they turn thirty years of age. Females go through this change of life after they have passed their child-bearing years.  In the same natural fashion, the males of our species no longer need the large amounts of testosterone that make them physically strong, aggressive and powerful and they very slowly and gradually succumb to their feminine side which is more peaceful, caring and nurturing.

With males the hormone is called testosterone and the symptoms occur very slowly and very gradually from their early thirties until they are about eighty years old. After thirty men lose about 10% of their available testosterone each decade and so by the time they have reached eighty years of age, their testosterone levels are less than they were before puberty. This is a medical condition and it is called andropause.

The symptoms are sexual dysfunction, loss of muscle mass and fatigue, weakness, lethargy, osteoporosis, memory loss and depression. Testosterone is produced by a group of cells in the testicles, Leydig cells, and as males age over thirty, these cells lose their ability to secrete testosterone at normal youthful levels. This is called primary hypogonadism.  By middle age and beyond, messages from the pituitary gland are not strong enough to stimulate the Leydig cells to secrete testosterone and this is called secondary hypogonadism.

Andropause, however is not just a drop in testosterone levels but is also an increase in estrogen in males.  Young men have a ratio of 50:1 of testosterone to estrogen but the level drops to 20:1 in middle age and as low as 8:1 in old age.  This occurs because the body contains an enzyme aromatase which coverts certain amounts of testosterone  into estradiol(an estrogen). As men age, their bodies produce larger amounts of aromatase causing more conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This means that in the normal male, testosterone loss is a gradual part of aging that regularly occurs and will only affect him very slowly and almost unnoticeably over the years.  On the other hand, the unhealthy male  who is obese and drinks a lot of alcohol will age at a considerably faster rate.

Obesity

All fat cells contain the enzyme aromatase and  so an increase in fat cells will cause an increase in the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This will greatly decrease the ratio of testosterone to estrogen and enhance all the andropause symptoms.  This is an excellent reason for the male at middle age to trim down and tone up.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption causes dramatic increases in estrogen levels in the body. Women will have a dramatic rise in their estrogen levels after just one drink.  Men will not have a dramatic rise but heavy drinkers will have very high estrogen levels. Combine this with the damage that excessive alcohol does to the liver and you have  a male deficient in testosterone and with high levels of estrogen.  Not only will all the andropausal symptoms be enhanced but this male will also have “spider veins” especially on the nose and cheeks, development of breasts and atrophy of the testicles.  All these extra symptoms were caused by the increase in estrogen levels in his body.

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is a beneficial compound that inhibits the levels of aromatase in the body. Prescription diuretics that  are prescribed to lower blood pressure and alcohol consumption deplete your body of zinc. Without zinc the pituitary gland cannot release the hormones that stimulate the testes to produce testosterone. Not only will the lack of zinc lower your testosterone levels but it will cause an increase in aromatase which converts testosterone to estrogen.  Once again the middle age man must reduce alcohol consumption to moderate levels, try to get off the prescription diuretics and take some form of zinc supplement.

Modern treatments for Male Menopause (andropause):

Hormone replacement.

Just as we learned the hard way that hormone replacement for females was very dangerous, it is also becoming obvious that male hormone replacement can also cause many problems.  Since testosterone loss in aging males is a natural occurrence, taking testosterone in the form of an injection or through creams or patches can result in very high levels of free testosterone. The main side-effect is an almost 20 time greater risk of acquiring prostate cancer. One of the principle functions of testosterone is sperm production. Obviously as men reach their later years, this function is not as important and lower testosterone levels mean lower production.  However a large increase in testosterone in an aging male can upset the whole balance and put the male at severe risk. It is also very likely that the extra testosterone will be converted by the enzyme aromatase into estradiol, the final result being a male with enlarged breasts, atrophied testes and prostate cancer.  It is very important that men understand that the use of testosterone supplements, prescription or otherwise has absolutely no effect on erectile dysfunction.  The extra testosterone may increase your desire but will have zero effect on your plumbing.

While I was attending university I apprenticed at a pharmacy that manufactured and sold medical supplies to horse trainers.  In those days the last horse race of the day was for old males 7 or 8 years of age and the horse that finished last could be claimed from its owner for a very small amount of money. A trainer who dearly loved his horse and did not want it claimed ordered a vial of testosterone for him.  A few of us went to the race to watch how this horse would perform with this huge dose of male hormone.  As we expected it broke from the gate and led the field.  In this very short race our horse was fifty yards from the finish when it suddenly collapsed and died. I am telling this story not because I want your sympathy for the financial loss suffered by myself and my friends, but to understand the danger of putting a powerful stimulant into an old and decrepit body.  In females estrogen can be heart protective but in older males high levels of testosterone can very easily cause a heart attack.

Male Depression

One of the main side-effects of male menopause is depression because the male psyche is such that as he ages and slows down he feels inadequate. He is not as strong, as powerful, or fast thinking.  He may not have that important job and may not be boss of the household any more but most of all he feels sexually inadequate.  Eighty percent of all suicides in North America are males The male suicide rate at midlife is three times higher; for men over 65 it is 7 times higher and most likely after two episodes in a row of failing to maintain a sufficient erection  to complete sexual intercourse.  If a man goes to his physician and seeks professional help for his depression he will be prescribed anti-depressants such as Effexor or Zoloft.  The main side-effect of these drugs is erectile dysfunction.  Do you think the powerful strong male will actually confess to his therapist the side-effect of the drugs? Not very likely.  He may use drugs such as Viagra or Cialis but these can have very dangerous side-effects in particular heart attacks.  A man must learn to confide in his partner and learn that intimacy is something that changes over the years and as a couple ages, sexual intimacy can even be achieved without physical penetration.

The Natural Way to Slow Down Age-related Andropause:

Exercise

When you were young you had these large muscular arms and legs and even a powerful gluteus maximus(butt muscle).  Now it seems that all that mass has not disappeared, but moved to your stomach giving you the appearance of a skinny tiny pregnant male. Of course your testosterone loss and aging have a lot do  with this but exercise can actually stop and in some cases reverse the process.  Even with reduced amounts of testosterone  you can still build those muscles.  They may not be as big and powerful as they once were, but if you work hard you can achieve a great deal of success.  When you increase your muscle mass, you have less fat cells and less estrogen so you slow down your testosterone loss.  You also prevent osteoporosis because muscle stimulation causes bone growth. Exercise reduces your blood pressure and reduces your fat and for many men this can mean getting off prescription medications.  Most drugs that lower blood pressure cause sexual dysfunction and the main side-effect of cholesterol-lowering drugs is muscle pain leading to muscle-wasting. In fact, testosterone is synthesized from cholesterol so the next time your physician talks to you about lowering your cholesterol, keep in mind that this will lower your testosterone production artificially.

Exercise is the number one stress reducer and a male who engages in some form of physical activity daily is very unlikely to become depressed and therefore very unlikely to be in need of any hormone replacement, antidepressant or any prescription drugs.

Diet

As a general rule, the male diet is not as healthy as the female diet.  However, as you lose testosterone maybe you can lose some of the male machismo that keeps you barbequing a host of meats that are not good for you.  You must find your feminine side, eat more salads, fruit, and white meat only like chicken, fish and pork. And if you do eat some meat, at least have some broccoli or spinach or some good healthy vegetables with your meal. The loss of weight not only makes you leaner and stronger but also provides you with an abundance of new found energy.

The process of aging, like everything else in nature is cyclic.  You start off your life in diapers and you may very likely end your life in diapers.  The difference between males and females is the ratio of estrogen to testosterone in our bodies.  However, when we watch males go from the testosterone-laden teenage years into their middle-life crises with their sports cars and extra marital affairs and finally into their later years we see the feminization of men and it is a good thing.  With high levels of testosterone they spread their seed and produced offspring, did most of the hard physical work and maintained that male dominance of their families but during that part of a male’s life he is not s close with his family as he would like.  As the testosterone levels drop and the estrogen levels increase, he becomes closer with his spouse, less argumentative and is able to nurture his grandchildren where before he may not have had as close a relationship with his own children. He no longer needs the testosterone to be the bread-winner and provider of his family.  The truth is that Male Menopause or Andropause is a very natural phenomenon that is part of the human race.  When a man reaches his later years he must not think of himself as a failure just because he no longer has all the physical male attributes, the quick mind or the ability to provide. Whereas the female is the nurturer and protector of the family, the male, traditionally, is the risk taker and the hunter. Fortunately as he ages and loses his testosterone, he loses his aggressiveness and becomes a caring nurturing person. He must learn to be grateful for what he has, his loving wife, children, grandchildren and friends. This is truly a case where the male must look at the glass and not see it as half empty but as half full.

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