The decline of female hormones in women approaching the menopause is well documented but the decline in male hormones is often overlooked despite being just as important. In this article we will touch on the world of male health hormones and their link with potential health issues at this time of life.
Andropause – known as the male menopause is described as age-related changes in male hormone levels. The male menopause is caused by a drop in testosterone in men who are typically aged over 50. It is often connected to hypogonadism occurring when the sex glands called gonads produce a very small amount of sex hormones or none at all. Both conditions are associated with lowered testosterone levels and similar symptoms. Male menopause differs from female menopause in many ways. Also not all men experience it and it doesn’t cause a full shut down of the reproductive organs.
Andropause may cause some sexual, physical and psychological symptoms. The most common symptoms include: low energy, depression, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, increased body fat, reduced muscle mass and decreased bone density, lowered sex drive, decreased testicle size, loss of body hair, erectile dysfunction, gynecomastia and hot flashes. Low testosterone levels are also linked to osteoporosis (decreased bone density). Testosterone levels tend to decrease by one percent per year after men turn 30. Typically most of the symptoms affect men around the same age as women entering menopause.
Produced naturally by the adrenal cortex, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone – endogenous steroids) is converted by the body into testosterone and other sex hormones. A decreased level of DHEA can result in lowered sex drive, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, anxiety, osteoporosis and depression. Supplementing DHEA may help to increase testosterone levels and alleviate some of the symptoms. As a result, this hormone has been cited as a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
Both DHEA and cortisol are regulated by the pituitary gland. Findings suggest that highly stressed individuals have lowered levels of DHEA compared to non-stressed individuals. DHEA has many protective actions, including anti-diabetic support, as cortisol increases blood sugar and high stress stimulates higher insulin production.
The most common type of treatment of andropause is a transition into healthier lifestyle choices. Moderate exercise, good sleep and a healthy diet are the best ways to regulate DHEA and testosterone levels. Prolonged psychosocial stress may contribute to the reduction of DHEA, therefore getting stress under control can help to bring the hormone ratio back in balance.
Including plenty of healthy fats in a diet helps to create cholesterol from which our body makes both cortisol and DHEA. We need good cholesterol to make steroid hormones, mood enhancing vitamin D and new cell membranes. Key nutrients that promote healthy testosterone levels are vitamin D and zinc. Boosting the intake of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) which consist of valine, leucine and isoleucine may also help to increase testosterone levels.
Nuts, seeds, oily fish such as salmon, avocados, free-range meat, organic eggs, butter and Greek yoghurt, coconut and olive oil all add up to a healthy range of fats which support stress coping mechanisms and the brain functions.
Consuming cruciferous vegetables may help to lower the oestrogen levels in the body thus promoting a healthy balance of testosterone/oestrogen. Bear in mind that deep frying and over-cooking significantly reduces the number of nutrients contained in food (such as zinc). Use monounsaturated fatty acids when cooking, such as refined olive oil.
• Magdalena Marvell is a Nutritional Practitioner and Founder of the Persea Clinic which helps support clients who want to optimise their health in areas such as gut health, hormonal balance, skin conditions, weight management, family nutrition. To find out more about her work please visit www.persea.clinic.