Mark Stengler, ND
The physical, mental, and emotional symptoms women experience during menopause is an accepted fact among health professional.
The physical, mental, and emotional symptoms women experience during menopause is an accepted fact among health professionals. Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and low libido are some of the symptoms many women go through - the underlying factor being hormone imbalance. But what about middle-aged men?
Researchers have discovered that there may be a physiological basis for a host of midlife crisis-type symptoms in middle-aged men. Declining testosterone levels are thought to be analogous to the decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone in menopausal women. This age-related decline in male testosterone is often referred to as "andropause" or "male menopause."
Symptoms of Male Menopause
From the age of 40 through to the 70s, male testosterone levels gradually decrease. This decline is normal unless the levels drop suddenly or to a level below a normal range for one's age. If the latter occurs, a multitude of testosterone-deficiency symptoms can occur. These include fatigue, low libido, depression and other mood disturbances, loss of muscle tone and strength, increased body fat, accelerated loss of bone density, joint pain, poor memory and concentration, insomnia, elevated lipid levels, and erectile dysfunction.
The Testosterone Connection
A decrease in the production of testosterone by the testes is a normal part of aging. A recent study reported in a 2005 Annual Review of Medicine found that "approximately 30 percent of men 60 to 70 years of age and 70 percent of men 70 to 80 years of age have low bioavailable or free testosterone levels."
The free or bioavailable testosterone is the small fraction of useable testosterone that has metabolic activity and therapeutic value within the cells. As men get older they produce more sex hormone-binding globulin (partly due to excess fat cells) that binds up excess estrogen as well as testosterone. This decreases the amount of available testosterone unless weight and lifestyle is monitored and other natural therapies are utilized.
Higher levels of estrogen may also be a key reason why men suffer from andropause. Aromatase is an important enzyme within the body, converting testosterone into estrogen (estradiol). As men get older this aromatase enzyme increases its activity. Overweight men have larger numbers of fat cells that contain the enzyme aromatase, and hence have higher estrogen levels. Other reasons for elevated levels of estrogen include zinc deficiency, compromised liver function, alcohol abuse, and the use of certain prescription drugs.
Testosterone levels can be tested with a blood, saliva, or urine test. A holistic doctor would be more likely to investigate the multiple reasons your testosterone levels may be low. It is also important to check the levels of many other hormones that interact with testosterone including estradiol, thyroid, progesterone, growth hormone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and cortisol.
Treating Male Menopause
There are several natural options for men to improve male menopause symptoms. For those with mild testosterone deficiencies, the following non-hormonal approaches can work well.
A healthy diet with a concentration on whole foods is key to achieving good hormone balance and vitality. Consume foods rich in vitamin E such as wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains. Excellent sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peas, meat, and seafood. Watercress leaves and sesame seeds are traditional libido-enhancers, so consider making these a regular part of your diet.
Avoid food that impairs hormone balance such as harmful fats found in margarine and refined vegetable oils. Avoid packaged food containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and limit your intake of refined sugar. Eat organic food whenever possible as pesticides and herbicides have estrogen-like effects on the body. Milk and meat products may also have hormonal residues that disrupt normal hormonal biochemistry.
Take a high-potency multivitamin without iron to provide a strong base of nutrients and zinc supplements to help support normal testosterone production and prevent estrogen excess. Take 30 mg of zinc twice daily along with three to five mg of copper. In addition, B complex helps offset the effects of stress that can cause a host of symptoms including fatigue, depression, and poor memory. Take 100 mg daily.
L-arginine is an amino acid that dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow which is required for an erection. It also has been shown to increase low sperm counts or abnormal sperm function. Take 1,000 mg three times daily on an empty stomach.
Panax ginseng is a herb revered in China for improving libido and sexual function. A double blind three-month trial reported in 1995 in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that Panax ginseng significantly improved libido and the ability to maintain an erection. It has also been shown to improve sperm count and motility. The recommended dosage is 100 mg twice daily of a product standardized between four to seven ginsenosides.
Ginkgo biloba is also an excellent herb as it improves blood flow and helps treat erectile dysfunction. A typical dosage is 120 mg twice daily of a standardization of 24 percent flavone glycosides and six percent terpene lactones.
Cordyceps has traditionally been used in China for treating low libido and impotence. It has also gained widespread popularity as a supplement to support energy and stamina for athletes. Take 800 mg twice daily.
It is important to undertake regular exercise in order to maintain a positive mood, normal libido, and sexual function. Studies have found that weight-bearing exercises increase the body's testosterone production. In addition, it balances out the stress hormone cortisol that can impair many body functions when elevated.
Male menopause is a condition that is only just starting to gain recognition among medical professionals and warrants more serious consideration.
For men with severe testosterone deficiencies, the administration of bio-identical testosterone should be used under the guidance of an experienced physician; however, for others, natural therapies can be perfectly effective in managing fluctuating hormonal levels.
Causes of Low Testosterone