If you have any “women of a certain age” in your life, you’ve probably heard of menopause before. As far as we doctor-types are concerned, a woman is considered to be in menopause when she hasn’t had her period for one full year. In the U.S., the average age for this change of life is 51 although the decline in hormones can be a yearslong process complete with hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, mood changes and weight gain. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
At this point, you may be thanking your lucky stars for that fortuitous Y chromosome you carry, but what if I told you that men can experience a kind of menopause, too. It’s been called male menopause, andropause or manopause, and it is indeed a real thing – it just doesn’t involve periods. Male menopause is also caused by a change in reproductive hormones, but it differs from female menopause in several key ways.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the ways that male hormones change as we age, the symptoms that these changes can cause and some of male menopause treatments that we have at our disposal to lessen the impact of these hormonal declines.
It’s All About the T
As I mentioned earlier, one of the names for male menopause is andropause. That’s because male menopause symptoms are caused by a decline in sex hormones called androgens. Probably the most well-known androgen is testosterone. Women produce testosterone, too, but not nearly in the quantities that men do. In men, testosterone is responsible for the development of male sex organs in the womb. It also helps to grow our bones and muscles, produce sperm and enjoy a healthy libido.
In males, testosterone levels are highest during puberty. However, as men age, testosterone production dips. It’s really important to note that declining levels of testosterone are a natural part of aging. On average, testosterone levels decline about one percent per year after the age of 40. That’s a very gradual decline, and many men won’t even notice any changes associated with the waning levels.
However, some men do notice symptoms, symptoms which can suggest or mimic low testosterone levels, also known as low T. Male menopause symptoms can include hot flashes, night sweats, infertility, erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, breast swelling and tenderness, decreases in energy and motivation, cognitive decline, depression, increased anxiety, loss of bone or muscle mass and decline in frequency of spontaneous erections.
Clinically diagnosed low T is a medical condition known as hypogonadism, and it affects 30 percent of the adult male population. It’s more common in older men, but it can occur in men of any age. It’s important to make the distinction between hypogonadism and male menopause. Even though male menopause is a thing, it’s not technically a medically recognized condition. It is simply a convenient way of describing the symptoms that have been associated with an age-related decline in testosterone levels.
The good news is that there are male menopause treatments available. If you’re experiencing symptoms of male menopause, you’ll want to go to your doctor for a blood test. If your lab results show that you do indeed have decreased levels of testosterone and there are no other likely reasons for your symptoms, then you will probably be recommended for testosterone replacement therapy. There are about a billion ways to administer testosterone, so you can pick and choose which method works best with your lifestyle.
Testosterone replacement therapy can come in the form of a transdermal patch that’s applied to the skin once a day, a gel that comes in pre-measured packets or a pump that’s applied to the skin once a day, an oralmouth softgelpatch that’s takenapplied twice a day and sticks to your upper gums, a shot that’s injected into your muscles once a week, or a slow-dissolving pellet that’s implanted underneath your skin every few months. All of these methods bypass the liver, eliminating the risk of liver damage.
In case you were wondering, there are side effects associated with testosterone replacement therapy, so if you go down that road, you’ll have to weigh the benefits with the potential costs. There has been some research to suggest that testosterone therapy might up your risks for metastatic prostate or breast cancer. However, testosterone does not cause prostate cancer, which is a very important distinction. This kind of hormone therapy also carries the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. In addition, your fertility might also be impacted so you’ll want to tell your doctor if you’re planning on creating any kiddos in the near future. The important thing to keep in mind is that testosterone replacement therapy requires monitoring by your doctor, just like all other crucial hormonal therapies.
For the natural remedy kind of guys out there, lifestyle changes can help to alleviate your male menopause symptoms, too. Engaging in 30 minutes of cardio every day can help improve your circulation, which in turn can help your body produce testosterone (and erections!). Getting adequate, good-quality sleep is not only important for testosterone production, but it is also important for regulating blood sugar, controlling weight gain and supporting a healthy immune system, all of which can improve male menopause symptoms.
Age Is Just a Number
Nobody likes getting older, but it’s certainly better than the alternative, as they say. On the bright side, the fact that men’s hormone levels decrease gradually instead of plummeting off a cliff like women’s hormones do, means that many men are able to produce sperm and remain fertile and sexually active well into their 80s. So, if you don’t quite qualify as a young buck anymore, don’t worry. Despite changing hormone levels, “men of a certain age” are still way more stallion than old gray mare, and they’re still more than capable of a good roll in the hay.