Keep Your Youthful Vitality

Testosterone is Life, if You're a Man
Men, you can take the "male menopause" bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground

As I interpret this document - and bear in mind that I applied to law school twice - it is basically against the law to be a guy.

-- Dave Barry, upon learning that the federal government
had declared testosterone to be a controlled substance


There's testosterone in the air.
hat's with this "male menopause" thing? Some people take it seriously as a genuine phenomenon, while others think it's a silly New Age idea designed to give men an easy excuse for all the dumb things they do in middle age. They say that male menopause is not only not a real phenomenon but is a contradiction in terms to begin with. But, in the immortal words of a certain president, "it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is," so let's have a closer look at this conundrum.

First: Is male menopause a real phenomenon or isn't it? Well, no and yes. If by this term we mean something like the dramatic but relatively short-lived upheaval in hormonal function that women undergo - and the roller-coaster ride of emotional and behavioral turmoil that can come with it - then clearly the answer is no. Nothing that men experience comes close to that. On the other hand, men certainly do experience a decline in hormonal function - albeit slowly and gradually - that imposes on them a spectrum of symptoms that are remarkably similar to those of the postmenopausal years in women (see Table 1).

Table 1. Menopausal symptoms and associated conditions in women and men.

Women
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Hot flashes
  • Reduced libido
  • Vaginal thinning & dryness
  • Painful intercourse
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Atherosclerosis & heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Breast cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Thinning skin
  • Slow wound healing
  • Poor concentration & memory lapses
  • Reduced estrogen & progesterone
Men
  • Reduced libido
  • Impotence
  • Ejaculatory problems
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Depression
  • Atherosclerosis & heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Prostate enlargement & cancer
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Thinning skin
  • Slow wound healing
  • Poor concentration & memory lapses
  • Reduced testosterone
From Wright JV, Lenard L. Maximize Your Vitality & Potency for Men Over 40. Smart Publs., Petaluma, CA, 1999.

Second: Is male menopause a contradiction in terms? Yes . . . period (no pun intended). So if there really is something going on in men that needs to be talked about, it deserves a name that makes some sense. A term that has gained some currency in this arena is "andropause." This comes from the Greek andro, meaning male, and pausis, meaning pause. So if menopause means a pause in menstruation (hold it - shouldn't it have been called "menostop"?), then andropause means a pause in being male. Great - makes no sense at all.

Oh, well, it's not the purpose of this article to make sense. Wait; let's try that again. It's not the purpose of this article to purify the English language. Rather, we will talk about the effects of andropause, which is all about men (menopause, of course, is all about women). We'll see what andropause really is, and what you can do about it, if you're a man.

What the Heck Is Andropause?
Andropause (a fairly catchy term, all things considered) is probably best defined as age-related testosterone-deficiency syndrome, a term that does not roll trippingly off the tongue, but says a lot. The raging hormones of our youth can't rage forever (alas), and as their intensity diminishes to a more sustainable, but still strong, level, we grow up (most of us, anyway) and become mature, strong, dynamic men. So far, so good. But then, typically in our forties or fifties, the signs of a slowdown begin to appear, and little by little, over the next several decades, elements of our maleness slip away, like so many ghosts in the night.

There are many symptoms of andropause, including reduced libido, the gradual loss of muscle mass, and a general physical weakening, as well as declining alertness, mental acuity, and, uh . . . oh yeah, memory. For many men - but not for all, thank goodness - there eventually comes the dreaded I-word: impotence (or "erectile dysfunction," as those who are afraid to speak plainly call it). Nothing is so devastating to a man's sense of masculinity as impotence, and in that sense, nothing is so deserving of a remedy. And remedies are available: see the sidebar "Nature's Gifts to the Aging Man."

Nature's Gifts to the Aging Man

Fortunately for men everywhere, Mother Nature has seen fit to provide a variety of natural substances, from amino acids to herbals to minerals, that, when taken individually (but especially in concert) can give an aging man's maleness a much-needed boost. There are no guarantees of effectiveness, of course - there never can be with any supplement (or medicine, for that matter) - but the odds are favorable.

Following are a number of supplements that are known to work the best, in some cases through vasodilation, the process by which blood vessels are induced to expand in diameter, thereby improving blood flow (and reducing blood pressure at the same time).

Arginine - This most versatile of amino acids, and an extremely important nutrient for many reasons, is a precursor of nitric oxide, a vasodilator molecule that plays a vital role in enhancing blood flow to the penis (as well as many other organs). It also increases sperm count.

Choline - This is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which mediates sexual arousal signals from the brain to the penile arteries, telling them to dilate. This is essential for achieving an erection.

Ginkgo biloba - This ancient Chinese herb, one of the oldest supplements known to man, helps to increase blood flow in the brain (ultimately the most important sex organ of all), and it does the same in the penis. It is also effective in counteracting sexual dysfunction induced by certain antidepressants.

Panax ginseng - This herb, used in Chinese medicine to enhance stamina and the capacity to cope with physical stress, appears to act as a general rejuvenator and a sexual stimulant, as well as improving neurotransmitter activity in the brain and boosting testosterone levels. It may also be linked to nitric oxide production, which, as we know, enhances vasodilation.

Tribulus terrestris - This herb has been used for many centuries in China and India as a sexual stimulant and tonic for restoring vitality and stamina, among other uses. In modern times, it has found enthusiastic use in the old Soviet bloc, especially Bulgaria, as a libido tonic able to improve and prolong erections. These effects may be due to its demonstrated ability to stimulate natural testosterone production.

Urtica dioica - This is stinging nettle, an herb widely used in the treatment of enlarged prostate. It also has the effect of increasing the amount of free testosterone in the blood.

Avena sativa - This is wild oats (really), an herb that enhances many aspects of sexual function, including sex drive, firmness of erections, speed of arousal, and pleasure. In young men with low testosterone levels, it increases the levels dramatically.

Yohimbe - This African herbal product, extracted from the bark of a tree, has a long tradition of use as a sexual stimulant.

Muira puama - This South American herb, also known as "potency wood," has long been used for a variety of medical conditions, including impotence.

Ashwagandha - This ancient Indian herbal tonic for infertility, sometimes called "Indian ginseng," appears to improve sexual performance (the name refers to the strength and smell of a stallion).

Magnesium aspartate and potassium aspartate - These minerals reduce fatigue and prolong exercise endurance, work endurance, and, probably, sexual endurance.

Selenium - A deficiency of this important mineral is associated with male infertility and reduced sperm motility. Also, selenium inhibits replication of the herpes virus, reducing the possibility that this virus (if it is latent within you) could be reactivated by arginine.

Zinc - This versatile mineral, involved in hundreds of different body processes, helps to prevent prostate enlargement and produce sperm. It exerts a beneficial effect on many hormones, including the sex hormones.

Copper - This mineral also plays a role in many different processes and should be taken to counteract the copper depletion caused by long-term supplementation with zinc.

Testosterone - The Be-All and End-All for Men
In either sex, does aging cause hormonal function to decline, or does a decline in hormonal function cause aging? It's probably both - and there's a classic vicious circle for you. We know about the life-altering effects of the loss of estrogen and progesterone in postmenopausal women, and about the benefits of natural hormone replacement therapy to offset many of those effects. The results can be spectacular. (See "What Women Want to Know About Natural Progesterone" in Life Enhancement, November 2000.)

In men, the stakes are different in many ways, and everything hinges pretty much on one factor: testosterone, the hormone king, the master molecule, the essence of life, the giver of all things masculine, the defining element in what it means to be, and feel like, a man, and to stand tall (in more ways than one). Take away a man's testosterone, and what's left? Little.


Andropause is normal, but that
does not mean that men have to
accept it! We can improve our
lives by taking advantage of
our scientific knowledge.

And that is exactly what Mother Nature does: she takes it away - slowly, insidiously, cruelly. Why, then, do we not hear more about natural testosterone replacement therapy for men, in analogy with natural progesterone replacement therapy for women? Why don't men have the same access to the kind of biochemical wizardry that restores so much of a woman's sense of well-being - not to mention her actual well-being, in terms of her reduced risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and breast and uterine cancers?

Testosterone Deficiency Can Be Overcome
There are probably many reasons for the short shrift that men get in this area, but one of them must be the fact that andropause is so gradual and undramatic a process that it doesn't call attention to itself in the way that menopause does. It's all too easy, for both men and their doctors, to resign themselves to the gradual fading of masculinity and to write it off as an inevitable aspect of the normal aging process. Well, it is normal, obviously, but that does not mean that men have to accept it! This is the twenty-first century, after all, and we can improve our lives by taking advantage of all our hard-won scientific knowledge.


It is encouraging to note that
regular sexual activity is a
kind of tonic for good health,
especially of the immune system.

To get at the underlying condition of andropause, there are two viable approaches that the modern, enlightened man can take:

  • Testosterone replacement therapy. This can be done, and should be done, only by a physician (preferably one who has expertise in hormone therapy), because it requires professional medical judgment, and it is not suitable for all aging men. (Besides, testosterone has been available by prescription only since 1991.)
  • Supplementation with natural products. A supplementation program can be designed to restore, maintain, and improve natural testosterone levels. It can be undertaken by any man, any time. The supplements in question support various aspects of normal male function, including the stimulation of natural testosterone production by the man's own body.

A well-known prescription drug did not appear in this list because it does not get at the underlying condition of andropause. Unlike a daily supplement whose benefits build over time, that pharmaceutical is just an occasional quick fix for a plumbing problem.

The Benefits Are Tangible and Impressive
A leading advocate and practitioner of testosterone replacement therapy and of supplementation is Dr. Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., whose book Maximize Your Vitality & Potency for Men Over 40 explains both of these approaches in depth.1 Dr. Wright summarizes the benefits of natural supplementation for testosterone deficiency as follows:

  • Enhance sex drive (libido)
  • Restore ability to achieve and sustain erections
  • Protect against heart disease and stroke
  • Reduce risk of prostate disease (benign or cancerous)
  • Increase energy
  • Build stronger bones and muscles
  • Relieve depression
  • Lower total cholesterol while raising HDL (the "good cholesterol")
  • Reduce weight
  • Prevent age-related losses in mental acuity

Dr. Wright also stresses the crucial importance, for optimal sexual health, of a good diet and regular exercise - advice that applies to all aspects of health, of course. And it is most interesting and encouraging to note that regular sexual activity - the more, the better - is itself a kind of tonic for good health, especially of the immune system. All the more reason to want to get up (or get down) and do it.

For the man who wishes to retain some of the vitality of his youth, to feel more like a male than he may otherwise be able to, natural products (the same ones outlined in the sidebar) may help attain that goal, and may provide a broad spectrum of benefits beyond those related directly to libido and erectile function. Those nutrients take advantage of all the knowledge that scientific research has been able to provide, augmented by the accumulated wisdom of folkloric medical traditions from different cultures throughout the world.

So men, get back to the glorious business of being a robust male, and wrestle that andropause bull to the ground. And by the way, if you want to read something about being a male that's life-threateningly funny, get Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys.2

Is Life Harder for Men than for Women?

For many women, menopause is a nightmare, while others get through it with relative ease. At best, though, it's a hard thing for a woman to have to come to terms with. On the other hand, as some men are quick to point out (insensitive louts that they are), women have always had it easy in some respects. They can have sex whenever they want, and performance anxiety means nothing to them. Even after menopause, when their hormone levels have plummeted, women can still have sex any time, and many women enjoy it more then than they did during their childbearing years. It's so unfair!

And even a premenopausal hysterectomy can't keep a good woman down. With appropriate hormone therapy, if necessary, she will still be a thoroughly feminine woman, able to enjoy all that life has to offer - except for childbirth, of course (and this lighthearted discussion is not intended in any way to minimize the importance of that profound and miraculous event to a woman).

Now consider the male analog of hysterectomy: castration. The result is a eunuch (shudder), the very antithesis of a masculine man. Men are so utterly dependent on their testosterone to make them feel and act like men that it's almost as vital as the air they breathe.

A man's existence is perpetually precarious in this regard. Aside from all the other aspects of masculinity that testosterone produces - strength, boldness, confidence, competitiveness, etc. - the all-important issue of sexual performance is at stake, and the specter of failure hangs over every aging man like the sword of Damocles.

It may seem silly and pathetic to women, but a man's self-image is so strongly shaped by his ability to have erections - the ultimate symbol of his maleness and thus of the power that he seeks to project in some way onto the world around him - that impotence often drives men to contemplate suicide. For men, life is hard, but to be hard is to be alive.

References

  1. Wright JV, Lenard L. Maximize Your Vitality & Potency for Men Over 40. Smart Publications, Petaluma, CA, 1999.
  2. Barry D. Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys. Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1995.

Featured Product

  • Learn more about Arginine benefits and implementation strategies.

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator