Men of a Certain Age
The idea of “male menopause” may not be an accurate description, but testosterone levels do affect aging men.
It’s no secret that the mature human body does not work as efficiently as its younger counterpart. Blood flowing through veins has obstacles. The brain and glands don’t stimulate hormones that communicate with the rest of the body with quite as much vigor.
“As we get older, systems fail, or individual pieces fail that lead to failure of systems. Among other things, testosterone levels go down,” says William Reiner, a professor and urologist at University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
Men in general have a gradual taper in testosterone production. This decline begins just after levels peak in adolescence and early adulthood. According to the Mayo Clinic, testosterone begins to decline in males around age 30, then continues to decrease by about one percent each year.
Some men can reach a symptomatic low in testosterone in their 50s and 60s. This is sometimes referred to as male-menopause. However, Reiner says, menopause is the complete failure of the system. Unlike the female reproductive system, the male system is not designed for complete failure. Low-T or, more scientifically, hypoandrogenism, are more accurate names.
The Low-T Low Down
Despite what TV and radio advertisements pushing drugs to help men with Low-T might lead one to believe, many men are never affected by this decline. Reiner suspects less than half of men have enough of a drop in hormone levels to become symptomatic.
However, those that do have symptoms typically notice loss of stamina, low energy and even hot flashes first, says Reiner. The Mayo Clinic also lists changes in mood and sexual function, weight gain and muscle loss as symptoms.
“Nothing can be done to prevent it. Not as far as we know,” says Reiner. This shift in hormonal production is a natural part of aging.
Reiner does say he would not be surprised if one day the chemicals and drugs that are commonly used today are increasingly making declines in testosterone a bigger problem.
General preventive care and a healthy lifestyle, which will keep the circulatory system healthy can help ensure that some affects of declining testosterone are minimized or at least not compounded.
Men with good vascular health can have intimate relationships even as their testosterone levels decrease.
Men who feel a loss of stamina or low energy can visit their primary care physician to discuss symptoms. The doctor may do a blood test to confirm low levels of testosterone. Then testosterone can be taken by injection, patch or gel.
Failure To Communicate
Reiner says the decrease in production of testosterone is because of “a disconnect between central brain function and the testicle. (They) no longer stimulate each other appropriately.”
Reiner explains a seesaw pattern in which the brain, pituitary gland and testicles work together to regulate the levels of testosterone in the body. When testosterone levels dip, they trigger the production of more. When an adequate level is reached they shut down production. In time, like memory, Reiner points out, this begins to break down.
In women, the reproductive system actually ceases creating the hormones that fuel it. This results in the more acute and pronounced change than the gradual decline in men. Most men do not have a total failure of the system that produces testosterone.
Pitfalls And Perils
Hormonal issues aren’t the only ones aging men need to monitor.
While the loss of testosterone in many men might be the most discussed aspect of andropause, it is not the only significant change facing men beginning as early as their 40s and continuing through their senior years.
Joint trouble is a common occurrence in men in their 50s, brought on by a combination of injury, wear-and-tear and osteoarthritis. Low-impact exercise might be key to staving off the pain and limitations of joint trouble. Even mild bicycle riding, for example, has shown to significantly reduce pain and other complications.
After as young as age 35, men begin to lose bone minerals, and it can begin to have a noticeable effect by the age of 50. Healthy calcium intake, under a doctor’s supervision, is certainly one way to address the issue. The other is putting your bones to work for you to strengthen them, notably by running, walking and strength training.
A number of issues, from inactivity to bone mineral loss, can tighten a man’s spine and pelvic muscles, forcing other parts to pick up the slack and lead to back pain. Exercise such as Pilates, yoga and even exercise with a foam roll can help alleviate the situation by increasing flexibility and strengthening stomach muscles, which reduces stress on the back.
Between the ages of 50 and 80, men can lose 35 percent of their muscle mass, which can lead to additional complications. This is a time to commit seriously to muscle-building exercises. Done correctly, there should be little more risk of injury at 50 than there is at age 20 from lifting weights or similar activities. Make sure you’re following good practices and strength training can help offset the loss of muscle mass – and make you feel better, too.
The effects of aging in men might be less discussed than women’s menopause, but men also can have a more hands-on strategy for staving off those effects. – Michael W. Sasser