Men are not pre-programmed for a mid-life cessation of their reproductive ability, as are women. Yes, each sex has a different genetic program but the “operating system”–the brain and pituitary–is the same for both. Predictably, men’s testosterone declines with time and often becomes low. Let’s look at some hormone facts.
Children of both sexes have low levels of sex hormones and their bodies look alike. What makes the difference between these juvenile forms and the robust adult physiques they’ll show at age 18? Two things: The increased production of sex hormones at puberty and the processing of these hormones, according to gender. They cause responsive tissues to assume their mature, adult forms–starting way down at the cellular level.
Men’s enzymes activate these sex hormones to produce an androgen(literally“man-maker”)-dominant balance. It gives them big muscles, masculine hair growth and a well, “competitive” attitude.Women’s enzymes fashion their hormones differently, into a feminizing balance to produce a mature, reproductively active female body.
Now, view these adults at age 90. The womanly hourglass and macho wedge-shape have slumped to a unisex bowling-pin silhouette.Again, sex hormones–now the lack of them–have made the difference.This helps us see that sex hormones have broad effects on the body.When does this change begin? At mid-life, of course. Other problems show up around this time and will also take their toll. If their combined effects give a fellow low testosterone, it is called “hypogonadism”(or low-T)…the causes?
First, hypogonadism is often the result of age-related brain and pituitary changes. The brain, via the pituitary, regulates the gonads’ production of testosterone. Age slows down this “operating system” and that can result in frankly low testosterone production–precisely diagnosed “andropause”(menopause means menstruation stops).Secondly, the testicles themselves may stop working–truly“low-gonads.”
Thirdly, the pituitary gland can malfunction.Its“work-order” just isn’t delivered to thecapable butidle testes.Wehave to be alert, becauseoccasionally,ahiddentumor causesthe problem.Fourth on our lististhe effect ofstress.Severe stressstronglyblocksthehypothalamic-pituitarydemand fortestosterone.This has been confirmed bystudies of vigorous young men undergoingelitemilitary training.Some drugs, especially opiates,do the same.
Lastly and most importantly, men can lose much of the testosterone they had adequately produced! Both aging and insulin-resistance increase the enzyme “aromatase” that women use to convert testosterone to estradiol. Too much aromatase eliminates men’s strongly androgen-dominant balance, as estrogens rise and testosterone levels fall. Unfortunately, our bodies are also exposed to numerous chemicals, many of which have an estrogen like effect and cause a premature drop in hormone production. Even men in their 30s can have low-T!
Now that we know some causes of “low-T,” we must be sure to appreciate how important this is! Research studies have shown men with low testosterone die earlier than the guys with normal levels.
Sure, low-T causes symptoms mirroring menopausal women’s; these include cloudy thinking (impaired cognition),reduced libido, mood problems, loss of libido (sex drive) and even hot flashes.Yes, it can also lead to ‘ED’. More seriously, it causes physical changes of reduced muscle mass, strength and endurance; loss of bone density; often an enlarged prostate; worsened insulin resistance with increased abdominal fat and bad blood cholesterol; anemia–and damage to the linings of arteries, making these men more vulnerable to hypertension, heart attacks and strokes.
The good news is this: Very successful treatments are available.