Family and friends of middle-aged women are often well-aware of the changes that they go through during menopause. During this time, a woman stops producing hormones in her ovaries, which can lead to substantial physiological and emotional changes. These sex hormones; estrogen for the most part in women, and testosterone in men, drive many biological processes. In addition to sex drive, they also control body growth in adolescence and puberty. For men, testosterone affects hair growth, voice deepening, and muscle mass. When testosterone levels decrease with age or with disease, this can lead to various changes in the body, which is loosely described as male menopause.
Millions of men report such biological changes. Some of these have been well-publicized, such as erectile dysfunction and decrease in libido. Sleep problems, irritability, and weight gain are also common issues that are often misdiagnosed. Testosterone, which is produced in the testicles, and to a small degree in the ovaries, is made through a multi-step process. This process first starts within the brain’s hypothalamus when a hormone is transported to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then creates another hormone that triggers the development of testosterone in the testicles. When enough is made, a message goes back to the hypothalamus, which in turn triggers a signal to the pituitary gland to stop production.
The process in which testosterone is made is nearly as complicated as the question as to whether men actually experience menopause. Since there are so many processes and areas involved in making testosterone, a wide range of causes can affect its production. Low testosterone levels are not uncommon in men over 60, and even more so for men over 70. In most cases the hormone production doesn’t completely stop, like it does for women. Therefore, a physical or emotion change is worth looking into because there is often an underlying cause to significant changes in male testosterone production.
Low testosterone can only be diagnosed through blood tests. The problem can make it difficult to concentrate, but it can also lead to more serious issues such as sleep deprivation, depression, mood swings, and loss of bone and muscle mass. It is normal for production of the male sex hormone to decrease somewhat with age, especially past 40, but if this happens in younger men, it can be a sign of serious conditions. Genetic conditions affecting chromosomes and disorders that cause too much iron to build up can be significant factors.
For younger men, trauma to the testicles, tumors in the testicles or pituitary gland, autoimmune diseases, and medications can have a negative impact on hormone production. Testosterone can also be produced at significant levels into old age, on the other end of the spectrum. In between, many men in the United States report changes as they age. The study of the possibility of a male menopause has led to treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy.
It is possible to administer testosterone as a replacement. However, this has potential risks, and many times there are side effects. It can also worsen conditions like prostate cancer, so a comprehensive physical exam is required before any kind of replacement therapy begins. Other medications on the market can alleviate symptoms attributed to male menopause, and doctors also say that diet and exercise may be beneficial as well. Sometimes, antidepressants might be prescribed.
Whether or not men experience menopause continues to be a debated topic, but for millions, the answer seems to be obvious. The phenomenon continues to be studied and treatments developed and evaluated. If you are a young, vibrant male now, can this mean that in the future, menopause in men and its related problems can be avoided?
Andy West is a freelance writer and has written about several topics including men’s health conditions.