Manliness and The Manopause – what you need to know about your hormones
As many of us spend Movember horrifying our significant others and entertaining work colleagues with bizarre sprouting of facial hair, one can’t help but question one’s own manliness when a month of abstinence doesn’t yield that much-coveted handlebar mo.
Movember puts a spotlight on the devastating impacts of cancer but also men’s mental health, a murkier and less well understood subject, particularly when this relates to the taboo subject of hormones. Let's be clear, my mental health has been affected and all I've done is some research - after all, talking about hormones is the realm of women, right?
From the age of 30, a man’s testosterone levels naturally start to decline, but not everyone’s levels decline at the same rate. This is a problem because research shows a link between low testosterone and obesity, increased disease risk and premature death.
So here are 5 things you need to know about your hormones:
Fact #1 – Andropause is a thing
My wife refused to face the inevitable (albeit distant) threat of menopause calmly, instead suggesting that “manopause” was coming to get me, a prediction based solely on my increased lethargy, mildly comical expanding midriff and curve-less arms, and maybe also due to a lack of lust in bed in the morning. Hormone changes are a natural part of aging. Unlike the more dramatic hormone plunge that occurs in women during menopause, male hormone changes sneak up gradually. Testosterone levels start to drop at age 30 to 40 at a rate of about 1% per year, but if levels decrease faster men can experience andropause.
Fact #2 – Low T can have devastating side effects
The side effects of low testosterone are not to be taken lightly. Other medical terms include testosterone deficiency syndrome, androgen deficiency of the ageing male and my personal favourite, “late-onset male hypogonadism”. I was called a gonad once - I still remember vividly the recoil I experienced at the term - I can't begin to imagine the damage hypogonad would have inflicted. The health issues associated with low testosterone can be all too familiar:
Bang to buck Low T can leave you crashing in the bedroom department – it can cause a dramatic drop in sexual appetite, and goodbye to those, ahem, spontaneous erections. This can also lead to depression and anxiety as physical intimacy with your partner starts to fizzle.
Low energy General lethargy and fatigue is another common complaint of low testosterone. Even if you somehow managed to get your 8 hours of sleep you can find yourself crashing in the afternoon. Over time life may start to feel a bit less interesting and more like a chore.
__From 6-pack to barrel __ Because testosterone inhibits fat deposits and helps with muscle production, some of the early signs of a "declining androgen state" can be increased belly fat and reduction in muscle mass. Men with low testosterone levels are also more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and even develop insulin resistance.
Brain Fog Brain fatigue starts with something you can brush off, like forgetting your password which happens to everyone right? But then you may realise you’re actually losing your edge, and that those tasks that you used to smash through start to trip you up. For high achievers, brain fog might be one of the worst side effects of low T and can be a slippery slope to depression.
Anxiety Testosterone has a big role to play in emotional well-being, and anxiety is a common consequence of low T. What’s more, when stress levels rise this can cause a spike in cortisol which if left unmanaged can hurl you unceremoniously into early manopause. This cocktail of unmanaged stress and anxiety combined with the resultant hormone imbalances has serious implication for mental health, until you can’t even make a decision without worrying about its outcome.
Fact #3 – Oestrogen isn’t just for girls
It’s no secret that testosterone is the holy grail of male hormones, but oestrogen also plays a critical role in male sexual function. Whilst elevated oestrogen certainly does come with a host of health issues (man boobs anyone?) without it your libido can fall through the floor, along with your erectile function and sperm quality. Whilst low T hampers the building of lean muscle mass, low oestrogen can lead to increased body fat and even bone loss – what a delightful combo!
Fact #4 – If you can measure it you can manage it
The only way to know for sure if you have a hormone imbalance is to measure your hormones. healthily now offers referrals for private blood tests online. Test results come back in your own personal dashboard with defined hormone reference ranges so you can easily see if yours are off track. healthily recommends getting your hormones tested annually so you can check your testosterone levels aren’t dropping faster than the magic 1% each year, and to help you track any improvements or declines in performance.
Fact #5 - You can fix a hormone imbalance
Before you rush off to your GP to talk about testosterone replacement therapy, take some time to think about how your lifestyle may be affecting your hormones. Hitting the gym, watching your stress levels, fixing your diet, and getting more sleep are all proven ways to help boost testosterone naturally.
Let's be honest, I look around and tell myself I’m not the only guy with a bulging belly and skinny arms. If my kids weren't so easy to blame for my "decreased sexual activity" I may start to feel like a lousy husband and a less than average man - and that's a well-documented spiral of self-absorbed misery where nobody wins. If I didn't have several legitimate (for now) excuses for some of these common developments for men my age, I know my self-confidence would take a hammering, motivation would follow and probably sleep too - and where would that lead me? Any number of perfectly avoidable hormonal developments could mark my departure from a well-balanced and loved environment to a much lonelier and sinister existence.
So this Movember, spare a thought for how some less than ideal lifestyle choices may be sabotaging your hormones, and recognise that your path to mental and physical wellbeing may start with a simple blood test.
- The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. Michael Schulster, Aaron M Bernie, and Ranjith Ramasamy. Asian J Androl. 2016 May-Jun; 18(3): 435–440 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4854098/
- Andropause (or symptomatic late-onset hypogonadism): facts, fiction and controversies. Morales A. Aging Male. 2004 Dec;7(4):297-303. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15799125
- Andropause: Current concepts. Parminder Singh. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Dec; 17(Suppl 3): S621–S629. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046605/
- Physiological and clinical characteristics of andropause. Delev DP, Kostadinova II, Kostadinov ID, Ubenova DK. Folia Med (Plovdiv). 2009 Jan-Mar;51(1):15-22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437894