O-h-h-h yes, whether he thinks so or not! Men are no more immune than are their female counterparts to a drop in hormone production with age. The so-called “male menopause” or “andropause” (in medical speak) signifies the natural midlife retreat of the male hormones (androgens), testosterone and DHEA. Testosterone in particular, is the most potent force driving mental and physical energy in men. But the rate at which these hormones decline and how steep the descent has everything to do with work/life balance, diet, stress levels, sleep and lifestyle.
The 2006 HIM Study found that nearly 40% of US males over 45 years old had low testosterone levels (an estimated 13 million US males), however the majority of men in the study did not recognize that the weight gain, sore muscles, lack of libido, insomnia, and burnout they were experiencing could very well be tied to a hidden hormonal imbalance – instead they put their symptoms down to “just getting old.”
What causes declining hormones in men?
In his prime, 95% of a man’s testosterone is formed in the testes. The balance, along with DHEA, the precursor of testosterone, is supplied by the adrenal glands. As he ages, brain signals to the testes to ‘make more testosterone’ start to weaken, hence the signal is not picked up and hormone levels start to downsize. By the time the average Joe hits his 40’s, testosterone levels are down forty to 50 percent and the adrenal glands are having to pick up the slack. Sidenote: this is when it becomes more important than ever at midlife to reduce stress so that the adrenals do not become overwhelmed and unable to provide sufficient hormone supplies. Weight gain, poor diet, and lack of exercise on top of high stress demands further lower testosterone, impacting the stamina, competitive drive, and virility we commonly associate with the male of the species.
How’s a Guy to Know?
The first thing a man entering andropause generally notices is a subtle downward shift in strength and energy as hormone levels taper off. Muscle tone and stamina are the first to go and he starts to gain weight and that “spare tire”. He may also develop a voracious appetite and food cravings he never had before. As symptoms kick in, hormone testing can identify hidden imbalances that complicate symptoms of andropause and contribute to rapid aging .
Got symptoms of Andropause?
- Weight gain in the hips, thighs, waist, and/or breasts
- Decreased muscle mass/sore muscles
- Increased body fat
- Decreased strength/stamina/endurance
- Poor recovery from exercise
- Burnout and fatigue
- Lack of mental clarity
- Decreased sex drive and/or competitive drive
- Prostate problems
Men with symptoms need to test these hormones for imbalances:
Testosterone – an anabolic hormone that builds and maintains muscle mass, bone density, strength and stamina. It is also linked to libido, mental clarity, memory and energy. Low or suboptimal levels are a strong indicator of andropause; deficiencies are linked with loss of lean muscle, increased weight, body fat, and BMI with a corresponding drop in metabolic rate.
DHEA – the primary source of testosterone and other hormones in the body; DHEA partners with testosterone to build and maintain lean muscle and bone mass, increase metabolism and reduce body fat. Deficiencies are linked with decreased lean muscle mass and increased adipose tissue or body fat. Low DHEA is also linked with adrenal imbalances of cortisol and adrenal fatigue.
Estrogen – promotes growth and healthy cell division; protects the heart, brain, reproductive organs and glandular function. High estrogen hormone imbalance promotes a female pattern of fat gain in men; it also depletes testosterone levels, and inhibits thyroid to slow metabolism way down.
Cortisol – secreted by the adrenal glands, it has a variety of functions including: regulating the stress response, energy, blood sugar levels, and the immune system. High or low cortisol levels disrupt blood sugar and insulin levels which decreases metabolism and increases fat storage.
How hormone imbalances trigger weight gain in men
Undetected hormonal imbalances can cause unwanted pounds that are difficult to shed especially as men get older. When testosterone or DHEA levels decline below optimal levels, men start to lose lean muscle mass, which is readily replaced by body fat, and those much vaunted six-pack abs start to slide into a spare tire of fat. The more body fat, the more estrogen is produced – a vicious cycle that depletes male testosterone by actually converting it to estrogen in fat cells. And it doesn’t end there. Imbalances of estrogen and related hormones like cortisol (the master stress hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels) not only suppress available testosterone, but also slow down thyroid metabolism…. while the pounds pile on.
How can men balance their hormones naturally to boost energy, stamina, libido, and lose that “spare tire” for good?
As aging and bad health habits put the brakes on hormone production, the decline can be more precipitous in some men than others. Testing male hormone levels is the first step to understanding why, and what you can do about it. My first suggestion is to order either a Male Hormone Test kit, the new Weight Management Profile, or Advanced Plus profile (all of these comprehensive home collection kits test levels in saliva and or bloodspot) from Canary Club at www.canaryclub.org. When you get your hormone results back, (usually within 3-5 days from the time the lab receives your hormone samples) you can book a consult with your physician (go to Find A Provider at http://www.zrtlab.com) of if you prefer a phone consult, you can book one with me, Candace at www.yourhormonebalance.com In an hour coaching session we will review and discuss your results, and your what next options. You will also receive a follow-up personal hormone balance plan within a week of our consult.
Men in balance do this:
-Determine their symptoms of hormone imbalance from the list above. Two or more moderate to severe persistent symptoms indicate a problem.
- Test their hormone levels to detect and correct imbalances linked to symptoms.
- Followup with a physician or health coach.
-Losing weight is key to rebalancing hormones. Fat cells contain aromatase, an enzyme that robs available testosterone by converting it to estrogen. That is when men start to get a female pattern of fat distribution in the hips, thighs, bottom and breasts (anyone heard the term “moobs”)!
-Stick with a program! A Mediterranean style diet that is low glycemic, low carbohydrate, low fat, high protein, high fiber (whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, legumes, seeds, etc.) can go a long way towards balancing your hormones to balance your weight.
-Throw out testosterone robbers like caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and unnecessary stressors like overbooking yourself, etc.
-Take up strength training or weight bearing exercise to boost testosterone and DHEA levels naturally by building up lean muscle mass.
-Counteract stress (the higher the stress levels, the lower the testosterone) with regular exercise – 45 minutes is optimal but even 10 mins. 3x a day adds up to 30 minutes and that is GOOD.
-St-r-e-t-c-h and breathe deep to release tension held in the muscles and lower stress hormones
-Hit the sack earlier – less than 7 hours sleep disrupts appetite hormones to increase cravings and feelings of hunger
-Take time to do the things you enjoy! Stress reduction is the key to normalizing cortisol levels.
Consider these hormone support supplements to rebalance your levels:
- Bioidentical* forms of testosterone (gel, patch,pellets or injections) in appropriate amounts as prescribed by a physician and/or Progesterone in low doses – to keep estrogen levels in check, thereby increasing active and available testosterone supplies. NOTE: progesterone inhibits the action of “bad estrogens” as well as testosterone by-products that can lead to enlargement of the prostate gland. Note: men use less than women and should discuss dosage with a doctor.
- DIM (an extract of cruciferous vegetables) – promotes “good estrogen” metabolism and rids the body of excess/or toxic xenoestrogens to free up available testosterone and correct imbalance
- DHEA the precursor of male testosterone boosts levels through natural conversion in the body. It is best used along with DIM and a men’s multi-vitamin with trace minerals like zinc, selenium, etc. to promote active thyroid hormone production, and inhibit loss of testosterone through conversion in fat cells
- 7-Keto DHEA – a metabolite of DHEA acts upon lean muscle mass to reduce body fat and rev up your metabolism
- Chromium and adaptogenic herbs (e.g. garcinia cambogia, banaba leaf, gymnema slyvestre) formulations - help normalize cortisol levels, regulate glucose and insulin levels, tame appetite, sugar cravings, and deflate that spare tire
- 5HTP (the natural precursor of melatonin) – at bedtime if you have trouble sleeping
- Cal-Mag and Vitamin D – deficiencies are linked with increased body fat
- EFAs (essential fatty acids, like Omega 3) and Ubiquinol (spark plugs of cellular energy) – support hormone production, reduce inflammation and protect the heart
- Vitamins C and B-Complex (B1-12) – to boost energy, and strengthen/support adrenal function and adaptation to stressors.
Note: all supplements to be taken as directed. Talk to your physician or pharmacist about appropriate dosages. Retest hormone levels in 3 months to track progress.
*bioidenticals are hormones made from plant based compounds that duplicate natural hormone structure and function without the side effects of synthetic versions.
For more on this heady subject see my April 8, 2013 post on Low T ads- boosting testosterone boils down to balance