Is male ‘menopause’ real or is it ‘just’ a midlife crisis?
Is it fair to compare the male experience, to what happens for women when their hormones drop off very rapidly at menopause?
What is Male Menopause?
A gradual decline in testosterone / androgen is normal in males aged over 30 years (hence the medical term ‘andropause’).
On average, by the time we get to 45 we’ve lost about 15% of our male hormones, and by 60 we’ve lost over 30%. At 70 we are at about 50% of where we were when younger. So, in this respect male hormone loss with aging is a much more gradual decline than for women.
Also, women lose the ability to ovulate rapidly in comparison to what happens to male fertility. Yes, a lower sperm count does affect fertility, but depending on various life factors some males can still reproduce over the age of 70. Of course, there may be more risk of significant abnormalities and other health problems from older male fathers, but in general older males have been known to father relatively healthy children when they are with younger partners.
The Effects of Male Menopause
Here are some of the ways this decline in sex hormones can affect male health:
- Emotions: for many men their hormones are released in higher levels when they are at the peak of their ability, particularly when they are performing well in most areas of their life. When there are changes in leadership roles or employment, the stress of this can reduce normal hormone production. This can happen apart from other age-related hormone changes. The combination of stress and gradual decline can lead to greater variation in emotions, as well as less ability to concentrate, and feelings of sadness. If there is a family history of depression, there can be epigenetic effects that add to these feelings.
- Sexual Function: There can be reduced ability to achieve erection, and reduced desire for sex. This can be complicated by other health problems such as age and lifestyle related cardio-vascular disease. The testes may also shrink.
- Sleep Disturbance: This can take various forms, depending upon other stress factors that regularly happen in life. Some men become sleepier, while others have insomnia and suffer from lack of sleep.
- Various: Other physical health problems may occur, particularly if exercise patterns are dropping off.
Common Questions about Male Menopause
Some women have hormone replacement therapy (HRT); should men have that?
It would take a very large study over many years to answer this accurately. While some men have reported beneficial effects of taking supplements such as human growth hormone (HGH), or other metabolic stimulants, there are significant risk factors. It is always best to try to maintain a balanced lifestyle, before considering other possible treatments.
What about other male age-related problems such as prostate health?
There are various ways in which prostate health can complicate the picture of declining male hormones.
For example, some types of prostate tumours cause an increase in the release of male hormones. While the immediate effect may appear beneficial, the increasing hormones can keep stimulating the tumour to grow. In this situation, any dietary or artificial supplement (such as DHEA) that stimulates testosterone production could be harmful.
Good things to do …
- Eat Healthy: Maintain a balanced diet with fruit, vegetable salads, vegetables and appropriate protein, but do not be excessive with protein supplements. As with unsupervised hormone supplements, excessive protein supplement can be harmful.
- Exercise Regularly: Exercise helps to maintain healthy hormone balance, and stimulates the lymphatic system, which is just as important in older men as it is in younger men. Slow recovery from infections can also reduce male hormone levels, which can then become a downward cycle.
What can be done at a psychological level?
Discussing significant life events that produce stress can help with managing the inevitable changes. It’s not always easy to find someone to talk to about personal health and related issues, however this is an area which I have a special interest in.
Author: David Hardwick, B Psych (Hons), MPHIL.
David Hardwick is a Brisbane psychotherapist with a background in nursing and psychology, both in practice and academia. He has a special interest in providing support for men’s health issues and is fascinated by epigenetics (how nurture shapes our nature).
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