Growing old gracefully… it’s a romantic notion, but as we age, each little bump along the way can seriously begin to take the “grace” out of the equation. As we all know, women go through menopause, as their bodies stop producing a variety of hormones, and their reproductive systems shut down.
Men, on the other hand, have a less sudden decline into what’s known as “andropause.” Gradually the body’s endocrine system produces lower levels of hormones like testosterone, beginning in the mid 30’s and becoming more pronounced with each passing year. Other factors, including stress or poor diet can accelerate this process. For example, every point over 25 on the body mass index, your testosterone production drops 3%. That’s a pretty big drop!
Without a sudden onset like menopause, many of us disregard the symptoms as just being another part of aging. However, accepting its symptoms as a natural part of aging is akin to just giving up, something I’m just not willing to do. As each of these adverse effects set in, the quality of your life decreases as a whole. There’s nothing vein or selfish about wanting to live a happy, fulfilling life.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that roughly 25% of American men over 30 may have low testosterone levels. While doctors debate if andropause is a condition itself, or just a collection of age-related symptoms, it’s agreed upon that this slowing of testosterone production is the cause. Production begins to slow from around age 30 on, dropping by 1% each year in average, healthy patients. In many men, this decrease is even more pronounced, as health conditions, diet, and genetic factors come into play.
Symptoms of Andropause, and Its Negative Effects
The problems this lowering of testosterone levels can cause are well documented and life changing. A decrease in muscle growth and increased fat accumulation are one problem liked to it. This sets your body on a downhill course, and to make matters worse, lowered testosterone levels are also linked with a lack of energy or even depression, making it harder to overcome the physical aspects of the condition. Remember what I said about high body mass decreasing testosterone? That beer gut can end up creating a bit of a vicious cycle…
A lowered libido and potential sexual dysfunction or reduced sexual performance can impact your emotional state drastically. Your mental state can suffer as well. Lower testosterone levels are linked to a decline in memory, mental acuity, and insomnia.
The effects of all this on the body and mind cannot be overstated enough. In the long term, the effects of low testosterone levels have been linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and chronic heart failure.
Methods of Dealing with the Symptoms
The symptoms themselves can be treated, but that ignores the underlying cause. You could fill your medicine cabinet with medications for erectile dysfunction, mood, fatigue, and so forth, without ever really getting to the root of the matter. Not to mention that you’ll be picking and choosing among a laundry list of side effects from this pharmacopeia of band-aid fixes.
Rather than treating the symptoms, wouldn’t it be better to look at options for counteracting the problem at the source?
Hormone Replacement, is it Overkill?
The most obvious of these is hormone replacement. If the body is running a bit low on hormones, just administer more of the, right? Well, not necessarily. In extreme cases this can be helpful, but it’s also fraught with problems.
Your endocrine system is a delicate machine, producing the hormones it thinks you need and not a drop more. Flooding your system with outside sources of hormones will often result in your body secreting even less, as it no longer believes it needs to create as much. The side effects of this can be almost as bad as lowered levels of the hormones. Introducing large outside sources of testosterone has such effects as shrinking of the testicles, which as they are no longer needed to produce the testosterone themselves. It’s the same reason bodybuilders on anabolic steroids get that notorious shrinking effect. In addition, the sudden flood of unexpected hormone can cause problems such as mood imbalance and increased heart stress.
We’re looking for a way to feel younger, healthier, and more energetic. I don’t think adding a bunch of health risks and worries serves that purpose very well.
In extreme cases, your doctor may feel these risks are warranted. However, for the average Joe taking the slow, steady backslide into aging, this is a lot to deal with. Constant blood tests to monitor hormone levels and frequent checkups to avoid catastrophic side effects aren’t very appealing, and you’re right back to your quality of life declining again – just in different ways.
So directly adding hormones to the system is just not a great option for most of us. However, the next logical step is where we finally strike gold. The endocrine system is capable of producing the hormones, so what if we find a way to encourage it along, and make it produce higher quantities once more?
Boosting Your Body’s Own Production of Testosterone
Lucky for us, there are ways of doing just that. Solid research into a variety of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements has shown exciting results in stimulating hormone production. Leveraging the endocrine system’s ability to produce these hormones has a variety of advantages. By your body producing its own testosterone, and releasing it in the gradual doses as it normally does, it can be much gentler on your system. Because you’re not introducing hormones from an external source, effects like shrinking of the testicles aren’t an issue – on the contrary, they are producing more testosterone, and can become larger as a result.
The only problem is that supplements, especially in the domain of male virility, are a market filled with scams and snake oil. Discerning which products that will give you good, reasonable results can often be difficult, when drowned out by poor products giving outrageous claims. It’s easy to recognize pharmaceutical companies as being self-interested, pushing cures of dubious merit. It’s important to recognize that less scrupulous parts of the ‘natural’ cure market pray upon some of the same fears though. It’s all too easy to make bold claims, promising to turn you into Superman with just a few pills a day.
Scientific studies, conducted by reputable doctors, using appropriate precautions like double blinds are very important in determining the effectiveness of supplements. With thousands of potentially helpful herbs and minerals out there (not to mention potential combinations of them,) researchers are scrambling to find effective solutions to andropause. Sifting through this research can be confusing though, and leave you with more questions and uncertainty.
Examining Ways to Boost Your Own Testosterone
In the next few posts, I’m going to take a look at some supplements which have had promising results in studies, and try to distill some of the findings so that you can make informed decisions. Improving the quality of your life through well informed decisions and safely isn’t hard to do, with a little help.
In the next installment, we’ll be looking at tongkat ali, an herbal supplement that has shown good promise, and some remarkable effects in laboratory studies.
 W.Roudebush, M.Witt, H.Kort, J.Massey, C.Elsner, D.Mitchell-Leef “Men with High Body Mass Index Values Present with Lower Serum Testosterone Levels” Fertility and Sterility, Volume 84 http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282%2805%2901637-7/abstract
 Andre B. Araujo, Gretchen R. Esche, Varant Kupelian, Amy B. O’Donnell, Thomas G. Travison, Rachel E. Williams, Richard V. Clark and John B. McKinlay “Prevalence of Symptomatic Androgen Deficiency in Men” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007;92:4241-7 http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/92/11/4241
 Dana A. Ohl, Susanne A. Quallich “Clinical Hypogonadism and Androgen Replacement Therapy: An Overview: Side Effects of Testosterone Replacement” http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/543997_8