It All Begins With the Endocrine System
The endocrine system is considered one of the great controlling systems in the body, much like the nervous system. In fact, the endocrine system works in concert with the nervous system to work its magic in the body. However, unlike the speedy influence of nerve impulses, the endocrine system uses a more leisurely arrangement of chemical messengers to relay its instructions, initiating responses and then shutting them down again. These chemical messengers are called hormones, which ebb and flow in the bloodstream in a timely dance, regulating the performance of organs and cells throughout our lifetime.
Technically speaking, a hormone is a “complex chemical produced and secreted by endocrine glands that travels through the bloodstream and controls or regulates the activity of another organ or group of cells.”1 An organ that is targeted by a specific hormone is called the hormone’s “target” organ. For example, aldosterone is a hormone that is concerned with mineral levels in the body. It is produced by the adrenal cortex and its target organ is the kidneys. When blood levels of aldosterone rise, the kidneys interpret this signal as a message to begin retaining sodium and allowing more potassium to pass out with the urine. When a beneficial sodium balance has once again been achieved in the body, blood levels of aldosterone will fall and the kidneys will cease to retain sodium.
The Testosterone Effect
Testosterone is one of a class of hormones called androgens, male sex hormones that are called into action by another hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH) (produced in the anterior pituitary gland), during puberty. But for a small spike in levels in male infants before the age of six months, once production truly begins at puberty, testosterone is continuously produced, in varying levels, for the remainder of a man’s life.
Testosterone is responsible for the development of the reproductive organs, sex drive, and other “rite of passage” developments such as the deepening of a boy’s voice, increased hair growth, increased oiliness of skin and hair, appearance of the Adam’s apple, enlargement of skeletal muscles (growth spurt), and increased heaviness of the skeleton and muscle mass. Not surprisingly, given its role in bone development, testosterone is also important in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Testosterone plays a role in developing creativity, intellect, thought patterns, assertiveness and drive. Testosterone also affects general health during childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Adequate levels of testosterone throughout life help males to thrive as children, develop stronger muscles and bones (along with acne) during puberty, cope with stress during peak career years, and age gracefully after retirement.
When Does Andropause Start?
Generally, around the age of 30, testosterone levels begin to drop by about 10% every ten years. Levels can drop to as low as 50% of their original level by age 70. Andropause, or “man-opause”, generally begins during mid-life around age 40, however it can occur as early as 35 or as late as 65. Biological changes bring about a steady decline in testosterone which affects hormonal, physical, psychological, interpersonal, social, sexual, and spiritual aspects of a man’s life.
While women pounce on symptoms that may signal menopause, most men miss them altogether and never seek treatment. A visit to your doctor and a simple blood test can easily determine whether low levels of testosterone are responsible for these symptoms or if it’s something else altogether.
What are the symptoms? Muscle loss and weight gain go hand-in-hand with decreasing levels of testosterone. This happens because testosterone is the primary hormone that keeps our fat-burning furnaces stoked. And when you begin to lose muscle, you’re also losing the key metabolic tissue that greatly enhances the amount of calories we burn over a 24-hour period. Other symptoms that can be attributed to lower levels of testosterone include:
How is Andropause Treated?
If your symptoms are not particularly bothersome, your doctor may just ask you to make a few lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, getting more rest, avoiding excess stress, and tweaking your diet to ensure you’re making the healthiest choices possible. Dietary recommendations include eliminating processed foods, fast food, charred foods (burnt steak), fried foods, unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. It’s best to decrease your alcohol intake and stop smoking. Increase your intake of raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, walnuts), water, and take a multi-vitamin every day.
If symptoms are affecting your quality of life, testosterone replacement is a common choice. Testosterone replacement is available in a variety of forms including skin patches, capsules, gels, and injections. The patch is the more likely choice for active men because you apply a new patch every 24 hours and you can still exercise, swim, bathe, and shower as you normally would.