“Man-o-pause” (andropause) and the age of anxiety…

I have been depressed more this year than I have been — ever. The world looks unsafe, disconnected and harsh. I separate myself from people and I have been spending more and more time alone. At first, I thought I was reacting to life in the era of Trump. No, that’s not it. Maybe this is “just what happens” to us “older guys”…right? We become grumpy and then our friends and family push us to a corner chair at parties and family events. No? That’s not it either. Then, I started to look at the possible physical reasons for my feelings and general view of things. A friend joked: “maybe you have menopause, oh wait, man-o-pause!” The phrase “man-o-pause” wasn’t funny the first hundred times I heard the joke — but this time made me look at aging in a whole new way…

Women must endure menopause. Menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. It’s diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. The chemical changes during menopause in the form of hormones can unleash a “firestorm” across the bodies of many women and it can be very tough time that can go on for years. The symptoms range from hot flashes to the emotional symptoms of menopause that might disrupt a woman’s sleep, lower her energy or affect her emotional health.

Men can experience “the change” as well… but very few men talk about it. In fact, very few men know that they even experience “man-o-pause”. They make the individual symptoms personal — as if no man as ever dealt with them before. And then, hat in hand, these hapless men go to the doctor. Many doctors don’t even talk about the chemical changes in the their patients as a single experience. These physicians buy into what their patients say by chasing symptoms and the cycle goes on and on...

“Male menopause” is also called andropause. It describes a drop in testosterone levels that many men experience when they get older. “Older” in this context could be age young as 40 or in your 50s or even 60s before it strikes. Doctors say that a man’s hormone level can drop by 1% or more a year starting in a man’s 30s. For me, andropause has struck just as I am finishing my 52nd year. The same group of symptoms is also known as testosterone deficiency, androgen deficiency, and late-onset hypogonadism. “Male menopause” can involve a drop in testosterone production in men who are age 50 or older. It’s often affiliated with hypogonadism. Both conditions involve lowered testosterone levels and similar symptoms.

If you’re a man, testosterone is a hormone produced in your testes. It does more than fuel your sex drive. It also fuels changes during puberty, fuels your mental and physical energy, maintains your muscle mass, regulates your fight-or-flight response, and regulates other key evolutionary features. “Male menopause” differs from female menopause in several ways. For one thing, not all men experience it. For another, it doesn’t involve a complete shutdown of your reproductive organs. However, sexual complications may arise as a result of your lowered hormone levels.

Male menopause can cause physical, sexual, and psychological problems. They typically worsen as men get older. The symptoms can include:

  • low energy
  • depression or sadness
  • decreased motivation
  • lowered self-confidence
  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • increased body fat
  • reduced muscle mass and feelings of physical weakness
  • gynecomastia, or development of breasts
  • decreased bone density
  • erectile dysfunction
  • reduced libido
  • infertility

In looking at all these factors, honestly, I have been overwhelmed. I know I won’t ever be 20 years old again-but there must be ways to manage this without hormone therapy (which is controversial and has some serious side effects) or other invasive treatments.

Based on my research, here are five ways to manage andropause:

  • Exercise. Regular cardiovascular exercise is extremely important for older men. The problem is that we older men want to be LESS active. We get “tired” and grumpy more easily than when we were in our 20s or 30s. The solution seems to be being MORE active. I do CrossFit and it’s made a huge difference for me. I think the idea is to be CONSISTENT.
  • Food. There are countless articles about food that increase a man’s “T levels”. Beef, oysters, broccoli and cauliflower and coconut…coconut??? Read the articles. Try some of the recipes. The easiest one: whey powder protein. Throw it in a fruit shake. Back off on carbs. KETO diets seem to be a popular structure for older men.
  • De-stress. Given whatever job or lifestyle you have — this is MUCH easier said than done. Stress effects many, many different parts of a man’s body and can actually reduce your T-level. Meditation. Relaxation techniques. Massage.
  • No smoking. If you smoke, ask yourself whether the LONG TERM issues are worth the 5 minutes. Also, chill out on how much alcohol you consume.
  • Sleep. As men (and women) age, sleep becomes more and more of an issue. Many men report as they get older that sleep is like “death”. Consider that many of your physical maladies, emotional problems and even your symptoms of depression can be traced back to how much rest and sleep you are getting. Lack of sleep is a trigger for so many issues.

As I move through my 50s, I am doing my best to take care of myself and balance things. Depression is difficult. Incidous. It sneaks up on you. No matter what we do to rebalance our chemistry — we must manage all the rest of the factors around our wellness and our lives. Our life and those of the people around us are depending on it. It makes the chemical part that much easier… The key for men is to be TALKING about andropause with friends, family and especially our doctors. Its time to replace embarrassment with knowledge and new actions.

Information from WebMD, Men’s Health Magazine, The Center for Aging and Men’s Journal

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