By the time men are between the ages of 40 and 55, they can experience a phenomenon similar to the female menopause, called andropause. Unlike women, men do not have a clear-cut signpost such as the cessation of menstruation to mark this transition. Both, however, are distinguished by a drop in hormone levels. Estrogen in the female, testosterone in the male.
The bodily transition occurs very gradually in men and may be accompanied by other noticeable emotional, psychological and behavioral changes.
- Change in Attitude
- Loss of Energy
- Loss of Physical Agility
- Low Sex Drive
- Decreased Muscle Mass
- Increased Upper and Central Fat Mass
- Cardiovascular Risk
- Osteoporosis or Weak Bones
What’s more, studies show that this decline in testosterone can actually put one at risk for other health problems like heart disease and weak bones. Since all this happens at a time of life when many men begin to question their values, accomplishments and direction in life, it’s often difficult to realize that the changes occurring are related to more than just external conditions.
Unlike menopause, which generally occurs in women during their mid-forties to mid-fifties, men’s “transition” may be much more gradual and expand over many decades. Attitude, psychological stress, alcohol, injuries or surgery, medications, obesity and infections can contribute to its onset.
Although with age, a decline in testosterone levels will occur in virtually all men, there is no way of predicting who will experience andropausal symptoms of sufficient severity to seek medical help. Neither is it predictable at what age symptoms will occur in a particular individual. Each man’s symptoms may be also different.
Yes and no. In fact, andropause was first described in medical literature in the 1940’s. So it’s not really new. But, our ability to diagnose it properly is. Sensitive tests for bioavailable testosterone weren’t available until recently, so andropause has gone through a long period where it was under diagnosed and under treated. Now that men are living longer, there is heightened interest in andropause and this will help to advance our approach to this important life stage which was identified so long ago.
Another reason why andropause has been under diagnosed over the years is that symptoms can be vague and can vary a lot among individuals. Some men find it difficult to admit that there’s even a problem. And often physicians didn’t always think of low-testosterone levels as a possible culprit. So these factors often led doctors to conclude that symptoms were related to other medical conditions (i.e. depression) or were simply related to aging and often encouraged their patients to accept that “they were no longer spring chickens”.
This situation is changing. New blood testing methods are available and there is an increased interest in mens’ aging among medical researchers. So much attention is being focused on andropause that major efforts are underway to quickly share emerging scientific information with the international medical community.
Starting at about age 30, testosterone levels drop by about 10 percent every decade. At the same time, another factor in the body called Sex Binding Hormone Globulin, or SHBG, is increasing. SHBG traps much of the testosterone that is still circulating and makes it unavailable to exert its effects in the body’s tissues. What’s left over does the beneficial work and is known as “bioavailable” testosterone.
Andropause is associated with low (bioavailable) testosterone levels. Every man experiences a decline of bioavailable testosterone but some men’s levels dip lower than others. And when this happens these men can experience andropausal symptoms.
These symptoms can impact their quality of life and may expose them to other, longer-term risks of low-testosterone. It is estimated that 30 percent of men in their 50s will have testosterone levels low enough to be causing symptoms or putting them at risk.
Testosterone is a hormone that has a unique effect on a man’s total body. Testosterone is produced in the testes and in the adrenal glands. It is to males what estrogen is to females.
Testosterone helps to build protein and is essential for normal sexual behavior and producing erections. It also affects many metabolic activities such as production of blood cells in the bone marrow, bone formation, lipid metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, liver function and prostate gland growth.
When there is less testosterone available to do its work, the testosterone target-organ response decreases, bringing about many changes.
There is great variability in testosterone levels among healthy men so not all will experience the same changes to the same extent. But typical responses to low bioavailable testosterone levels include:
- Low sex drive
- Emotional, psychological and behavioral changes
- Decreased muscle mass
- Loss of muscle strength
- Increased upper and central body fat
- Osteoporosis or weak bones and back pain
- Cardiovascular risk
Apart from the impact that andropause may have on your quality of life, there are other longer-term and silent effects of andropause that are harder to track: increased cardiovascular risk and osteoporosis.
In a healthy individual, bone tissue is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. In an individual with osteoporosis, more bone tissue is lost than is regenerated. We’ve all heard of women suffering from weaker bones, or osteoporosis, after menopause. In men, testosterone is thought to play a role in helping to maintain this balance. Between the ages of 40 and 70 years, male bone density falls by up to 15 percent.
Unfortunately, with advancing age and declining testosterone levels, men, like women, seem to demonstrate a similar pattern of risk for osteoporosis. What’s more, approximately one in eight men over age 50 actually have osteoporosis.
The incidence of hip fractures rises exponentially in aging men, as it does in women, starting about 5 to 10 years later. In Canada, 20-30 percent of osteoporotic fractures occur in men. The incidence of fractures has been increasing in men, whereas it seems to be stabilizing in women – likely due to their lifestyle changes, calcium supplements and hormone replacement therapies (HRT).
Low bone density puts one at risk of frequent fractures, associated pain, and in many cases, loss of independence. Wrists, hips, spine and ribs are most commonly affected.
Two important consequences of osteoporosis are often seen as a slow but progressive rounding of the shoulders as well as a loss of height and back pain. Particularly devastating seem to be hip fractures, up to one third of patients never seem to regain full mobility.
It is now well accepted that women’s risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) increases after menopause. Estrogen replacement therapy seems to reverse this trend.
New evidence suggests that a similar phenomenon occurs in men as their testosterone levels diminish with age. While research is not as complete as for women, the clinical findings point to an association between low-testosterone levels and an increase in cardiovascular risk factors in men.
*A cause and effect relationship has not yet been established in large clinical trials. Further clinical research is needed into this important area of study.
Andropause is often under diagnosed because symptoms can be vague and can vary a lot among individuals. Some men find it difficult to admit that there’s even a problem. And often physicians didn’t always think of low-testosterone levels as a possible culprit.
So these factors often lead doctors to conclude that symptoms were related to other medical conditions (i.e. depression) or were simply related to aging and often encouraged their patients to accept that “they were no longer spring chickens”.
But this situation is changing. New blood testing methods are available and there is increased interest in mens’ aging among medical researchers. In fact, so much attention is being focused on andropause that major efforts are underway to quickly share emerging scientific information with physicians worldwide.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
In many instances, testosterone replacement in men with andropause can be highly effective and beneficial. It’s not for every man, of course, even those who show symptoms on the previous quiz may have other health problems at the root of it all. Still you should discuss with your doctor if you would be a good candidate for testosterone replacement therapy.
What Should I Expect From Testosterone Replacement?
In various clinical studies, very good responses to testosterone have been reported for men with low-testosterone and they include:
- Improvement in mood and sense of well-being
- Increased mental and physical energy
- Decreased anger, irritability, sadness, tiredness, nervousness
- Improved quality of sleep
- Improved libido and sexual performance
- An increase in lean body mass, a decline in fat mass
- An increase in muscle strength (hand grip, upper and lower extremities)
- Potentially, a decrease in the risk of heart disease
With testosterone therapy, one’s attitude improves, reinforcing self-esteem and self-confidence at work, as well as an increased energy at home and in social activities. Most men will feel more vigorous, experience improved energy levels, mood, concentration, cognition, libido, sexual performance and an overall sense of well-being. These effects are usually noted within 3 to 6 weeks.
Other potential benefits include maintenance or improvement in bone density, improved body composition, muscle mass and muscle strength, as well as improvement in visual-spatial skills.
Of course, any ongoing strategy to reduce the symptoms and risks of andropause should incorporate lifestyle approaches such as optimal diet, regular exercise, stress-management and the reduction of tobacco and alcohol intake.
If you would like relief from the symptoms of andropause please contact our office.