The “mid-life crisis” that affects men in their 40’s and 50’s has never been well understood in medical terms. We now know that men go through hormonal changes in their middle years, just like women do. It’s been termed “andropause”, and it can be just as debilitating and emotionally challenging as menopause can be for women.
Men and women have the same sex hormones in their bodies, just in different proportions. Men have a predominance of testosterone, while their estrogen levels are supposed to be much lower than those of women.
Testosterone is commonly regarded as a “sex hormone”, but it’s really so much more than that – it’s a “total body hormone” affecting every cell in the body. As men age, their hormone levels change and this causes a range of effects in the body, including a loss of muscle mass, weight gain especially around the abdomen, decreased libido and sexual function, and depression.
Hormone changes in men are also associated with a range of significant degenerative diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension.
There are several changes in the hormones that contribute to andropause. One is a reduction in free testosterone. This is the testosterone that is “unbound” in the body, and therefore free to exert its effects. But low testosterone is just part of the picture. Research shows that as men age, they convert more of their testosterone to estrogen. In fact, it is the increase in estrogen that is thought to be responsible for Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH), which is extremely common. Men also have increased levels of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), a protein that binds testosterone and leaves less of the free, active testosterone in the blood.
Bio-identical hormone therapy can therefore be just as effective and important for men as it is for women. Lab testing is crucial to determine the levels of active, “free’, and bound testosterone, estrogens, DHEA and other markers such as Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), which is important in assessing BPH and prostate cancer. Once this information is gathered, a regimen of natural hormones and specific nutrient and herb supplementation can be prescribed to help boost the free testosterone levels, decrease the excess estrogens, and protect the prostate gland.
There are many potential benefits of hormone replacement therapy for men, including increased feeling of well-being, increased libido and greater sexual performance and satisfaction, increased strength and stamina and greater muscle mass, and weight loss (especially around the abdomen). There are also longer-term benefits such as protection against cardiovascular disease and neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s. For men taking anti-depressants, which frequently have negative sexual side effects, hormone rebalancing may provide a much more desirable outcome.
Andropause: the male menopause. It is not just a psychological phenomenon (the proverbial mid-life crisis!) – it’s a very real physiological change involving the hormones that keep men young and healthy! Men are not always the best at reaching out for medical help, so if you’re reading this and you see that your guy is suffering from some of the signs of low testosterone, you might want to encourage him (gently of course!) to look into it further.