It is something all women have to face, but some men are affected, too – the menopause. In men, this period is commonly known as the andropause. The male menopause is less well-known, though, since it only affects around one in ten men. Men’s experience of the menopause is not unlike that of women. This article looks at what men go through during this time of change.
The male menopause – What does it mean?
Men generally don’t like to talk about it, but men who go through the menopause experience a decline in their masculinity. It also causes mood swings, low energy and decreased motivation. As in women, this is due to hormonal changes. In men, the changes that come with age are determined by the sex hormone testosterone. Whilst testosterone is responsible for the advent of sexual maturity during puberty, testosterone deficiency is also the cause of the ‘signs of old age’ in men. Testosterone production increases until roughly the age of 30, with concentrations of the hormone remaining constant until around 40. At this point, testosterone levels start to drop by about one to two per cent each year. Men who are affected can enter the male menopause between the age of 40 and 45. Besides testosterone deficiency, other hormones responsible for the changes men experience during the male menopause are the so-called growth hormone somatotropin (STH), melatonin, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and oestrogens. In addition to andropause, other terms used for the male menopause include: male climacteric, PADAM syndrome, androgen decline in the ageing male and viropause.
Symptoms of andropause
Men going through the male menopause often report the following symptoms:
- General feeling of unease
- Irritability and mood swings
- Joint and limb pain
- Decreased muscle mass
- Reduced libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Feelings of physical weakness
- Reduced energy and activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Weight gain, not accompanied by changes in eating habits
- Insomnia or an increased need for sleep
Sometimes, men experience even more problems with these physical changes than women do. The symptoms above can lead to problems not only in the workplace but also in family life. Sexual frustration and sudden mood changes are even more unfamiliar for men than for women. This can cause tensions in relationships, as well.
Help for men going through the male menopause
Men who notice some of the symptoms above should first see a doctor. It is important to make sure that there are no other physical causes for the symptoms and no underlying medical conditions. Once these have been ruled out, possible treatments can be considered. Hormone replacement therapy could restore the hormone balance, but very little is still known about potential side effects. There are also numerous other ways of influencing an individual’s hormone levels and helping them through the andropause in this way.
Hormone levels can be maintained by following a proper diet. Ensuring low fat and low alcohol consumption can help men keep their testosterone levels high. Beans and lentils can boost production of the hormone STH, whilst increasing consumption of soya products and red clover can increase oestrogen production. Tomatoes and carrots are good sources of melatonin, and salt-water fish and iodised salt can increase the production of thyroxine, which can help increase energy levels. Bananas are not only healthy but also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can boost the production of serotonin.
Sport is good for you – for men, too. Making sure you get enough exercise can increase hormone production. Physical activity can counteract a testosterone deficiency in men because it raises testosterone levels. Exercise can stimulate the production of other hormones, as well. Hormones are also thought to function more effectively in men who exercise than in men who don’t. The best form of exercise in this context may be endurance training. Ideally, men should do roughly 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week. There are lots of different options – swimming, running, walking – but the most important thing is to do something you enjoy.
Addressing sleep problems
The drop in melatonin production in men going through the male menopause can result in sleep problems and insomnia. St John’s wort, taken as a tea or in capsule form, can help to counteract these problems. St John’s wort has a calming and sedative effect. But a word of caution: St John’s wort can interact with other medications. If you are taking any other medication, you should talk to your doctor about any possible drug interactions.
Talking about it
In a general sense, it is important for men going through the male menopause to come to terms with their situation. Talking about it – with your wife or partner or with a good friend – can be incredibly helpful. The physical changes, the general feeling of unease and the mood swings are much more alien to men than to women. Finding someone who will lend a sympathetic ear during this period is vital. It may even be possible to find male friends going through something similar and compare notes with them. Trying to deal with the changes on your own can lead to problems in your relationship, in your professional life and in everyday life generally.
The menopause in men is a subject that, for the most part, has received far too little exposure. As a result, until recently many people would just talk about the male midlife crisis. But the andropause does exist in men. And men need just as much support and understanding during this period as women going through the menopause.