Male menopause, also known as andropause, is a real medical condition, despite what many medical professionals and people in general may believe. It results from a gradual decline in testosterone levels over the years, which leads to a number of specific symptoms, some of which seem to be unexplained initially. We hope to shed some light on this subject for any males out there who could be experiencing this condition.
Testosterone levels are at their peak in a man’s early twenties. After thirty, men lose about 10% of their available testosterone every ten years. By the time you have reached eighty years of age, your testosterone levels are less than they were before puberty.
What are the symptoms of andropause?
Symptoms range from physical changes to emotional changes. The most pronounced symptom seems to be fatigue, and a feeling of exhaustion when arising in the morning. This can be a result of a general imbalance of hormones, or due to interrupted sleep patterns, sometimes accompanied with night sweats.
Menopausal men may also experience a decrease in their sexual drive, difficulty obtaining or maintaining erections, memory impairment, an increase in urinary frequency (especially at night), a change in muscle to fat ratio (less muscle, more fat), and a decline in endurance or strength. This may be accompanied by an inability to handle stress, irritability, depression or mood swings and general lack of well-being.
What role does testosterone play in andropause?
Testosterone, also known as androgen, is one of the main male sex hormones, and is responsible for a man’s ability to perform sexually, and for the secondary sex characteristics: muscle bulk, body shape, body hair, and deepening of the voice. In fact, testosterone plays a role in nearly every aspect of a man’s physical health.
In essence, what begins to happen during andropause is that there is a drop in free testosterone (the active form of testosterone) due to a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). This protein limits the amount of free (active) testosterone by attaching to it, making it unavailable to the body to use. As men’s age increases, the mechanisms for freeing sufficient testosterone start shutting down. One of the signs is increased levels of SHBG in the blood.
Males also have oestrogen in their bodies, another hormone. The balance of testosterone and oestrogen is crucial. Males can convert a portion of testosterone into oestrogen by using an enzyme found in the adrenal glands and fat cells, called aromatase. This process is necessary for the healthy functioning of oestrogen-sensitive tissues in a man’s body. However, as a man grows older, he produces larger quantities of aromatase, which convert excessive amounts of testosterone to oestrogen. As a consequence, the oestrogen to testosterone ratio shifts, and oestrogen competes with the masculinizing effects of testosterone. Oestrogen also increases the body’s production of SHBG, thus decreasing testosterone levels.
How zinc can help?
Adequate zinc levels are vital for hormonal balance and reproductive health. Without zinc, the pituitary gland cannot release the hormones that stimulate the testes to produce testosterone. As zinc is concentrated in the testes and prostate, any deficiency in zinc will lead to a reduction in testosterone levels, sperm production, and even muscle endurance. Not only will this depletion of zinc lower your testosterone levels, but it will cause an increase in the enzyme aromatase, mentioned above, thus creating an imbalance in the ratio of these two.
The benefits of zinc were illustrated in a study of 37 infertile men with decreased testosterone levels and low sperm counts. The men were given 75mg of zinc daily for 3 months. In 22 of the participants, testosterone levels significantly increased by an average of 92.8 percent, and mean sperm counts rose from 8 to 20 million.
Zinc also helps to minimise any symptoms experienced in andropause such as irritability, depression and sleep issues, as this mineral helps to balance the brain chemicals responsible for mood regulation, and has a calming effect on the system, especially when taken at night.
Other factors involved
Obesity and excessive alcohol consumption can effect the ratio of testosterone to oestrogen, by increasing oestrogen levels and in turn heightening andropausal symptoms.
Medication prescribed to lower blood pressure may deplete your body of zinc, leading to a decrease in testosterone.
If any of these symptoms or factors apply to you then it would be a good idea to start taking zinc supplementation to combat the long term effects of the male menopause.
From Claire Ward
Claire is a Nutritional Therapist with five years experience, specialising in sports nutrition, weight loss, hormonal and gut issues. Claire has a BSc Hons degree in Nutritional Therapy and runs her own nutrition and well-being business.