Lack of energy, weight gain, loss of libido, mild depression and hot flashes. We’re talking about menopause, right? Well, sort of. But the “change of life” experienced by many middle-aged men is more appropriately termed “andropause,” say medical experts. According to Jed Diamond, author of the book Male Menopause, a man’s version is also a “physical condition with psychological, interpersonal, social and spiritual dimensions.”
So why haven’t we heard much about it? It seems that men just don’t recognize it (or if they do, don’t talk about it) nearly as much as women do. That’s partly because the decrease in testosterone happens much more gradually than does the abrupt drop in estrogen that signals female menopause.
Somewhere around age 40, the testosterone level in a man’s body typically begins to decrease by about 1% each year. In those years after 40, a number of changes may occur that correlate with decreased testosterone. Men may experience fatigue, loss of concentration, decreased muscle and bone strength, lowered sex drive and erectile problems.
Though testosterone replacement is an option, many experts still caution against it. Instead, they recommend a more holistic approach including a number of healthy lifestyle choices and nutritional support. On top of Diamond’s list of ways to ease andropause is a shift toward a traditional Asian diet with its focus on fruit and vegetables, legumes, limited meat and little or no dairy products. Regular exercise is also essential to maintain healthy, flexible muscle tissue as men age.
Certain vitamins, minerals and herbs may also help to balance testosterone levels and provide overall support.
Nutrients such as vitamins C and E, and essential fatty acids are important to a man’s normal adrenal and sexual function. Zinc is especially helpful for men at mid-life, and is recognized as one of the most important minerals for supporting male sexual function.
Two herbs in particular may offer support via their hormone regulating actions. Research has shown that maca increases sex drive and energy in men, and may also help reduce stress. In studies with Bulgarian power athletes, the herb Tribulus terrestris (puncture vine) naturally raised testosterone levels and led to increased athletic performance and sex drive. Siberian and Korean ginseng are also helpful as “tonics” to improve general wellbeing and adrenal function. One note of caution: men with a history of prostate cancer should avoid testosterone-boosting supplements.
It’s important to remember that andropause is a normal, natural biological change in a man’s body. Jed Diamond reminds us that andropause “is not the beginning of the end, as many fear, but the end of the beginning.”
Sources: Male Menopause by J Diamond, Sourcebooks:1998; Encyc of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, ND, Prima:1996; Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible by E Mindell, PhD, Fireside:1998