Loss of sexual function and potency is definitely not a laughing matter over drinks with the lads. As the male version of menopause, andropause is becoming more and more widely acknowledged by doctors.
Jed Diamond, author of Male Menopause, has estimated that as many as 25 million males between the ages 40 to 55 in the United States are currently experiencing some form of andropause.
It’s linked to a host of changes in behavior including insomnia, nervousness, depression, loss of libido and sexual dysfunction after 35 years of age. It could very well be the reason why men have midlife crises.
Unlike the relatively new development of male breast cancer, andropause has been mentioned in studies dating back to mid last century. In the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1944, Heller & Meyers documented what they called ‘male climacteric’ which involved the above symptoms.
Now, although the World Health Organization doesn’t currently recognise andropause as an official condition, the term is still used in peer-reviewed journal articles. It is also used in medical journals interchangeably with the bizarre-sounding terms ‘symptomatic late onset hypogonadism’ (SLAH) and ‘androgen deficiency of the aging male’ (ADAM).
The impact of Andropause
Andropause is linked to both the age-related decline in testosterone and the increase in sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). The real surprise here is that the increase in SHBG is what many experts believe is the main culprit behind andropause.
SHBG is a glycoprotein that binds to testosterone as a means of transporting testosterone around the body. However, SHBG also inhibits the function of testosterone. So the more SHBG you have the less usable testosterone you have at your disposal. This means that the ratio of SHBG to total testosterone is quite important.
The other thing to note is that estrogen (the female hormone) in men will increase SHBG. Estrogen production in males is related to high body fat levels, poor liver detoxification systems and alcohol intake.
How to avoid it
To remedy andropause, most experts initially suggest lifestyle changes before you go running to the doctor screaming ‘hormone replacement therapy.’ This mainly covers diet, exercise and stress reducing techniques.
There have been a number of studies that show dietary fat has beneficial effects on our testosterone levels. As testosterone is derived from cholesterol, this makes sense.
One specific study in 1984 investigated the effect dietary fat and the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat had on male sex hormones. When keeping the calories the same, they found that a decrease in dietary fat reduced testosterone.
Along with making sure your fat intake is high enough from healthy fat sources, you also want to decrease alcohol intake (due to the aforementioned effects of estrogen on SHBG) and supplement with zinc and betaine hydrochloride.
Resistance training, and in particular hypertrophy training, has been found to benefit testosterone levels. Exercise scientist William Kraemer compared maximal strength training with hypertrophy weight training and found that hypertrophy (3 sets of 10 repetitions of 8 exercises) was superior.
Stress reduction will also help stave off andropause symptoms. Under chronic stress, the material the body would use to make testosterone is converted to cortisol. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, as the body prefers cortisol for survival purposes more than it needs testosterone for reproduction.
Andropause may be a cause for alarm. However, as with all health and lifestyle changes, run any plans by your doctor first.
By Joseph Coyne
Joseph (BPhEd, GradDipTchng) is an expert in health and performance and is currently based in Gold Coast, Australia (www.josephcoyne.com)