It may be subtle at first, in fact hardly noticeable. A little less enthusiasm for work, more fatigue at the end of the day, or diminished interest in sexual activity. While there could be a host of physical or psychological reasons for the decline, it’s possible that hormonal changes in the body could be the cause of many of the symptoms men may experience—especially if they’re nearing middle age.
Gradual Yet Significant Changes
Some medical practitioners refer to it as, “male menopause”, while others have embraced the term, “andropause”, from the Greek word andro (male) and pausis (stop). While menopause in women can be clearly defined as the period at which ovum (eggs) are no longer released from the body’s ovaries, male menopause is a much more gradual process that involves the imbalance of more than one hormone over a long period of time.
Testosterone, DHEA—What Men Need
As men age, hormone levels necessary for strength, vitality, health and well being naturally fluctuate over time. By the time a man reaches his late 30’s key androgens, or powerful male hormones begin to taper off, creating a subtle downward shift in energy level and virility. At optimal levels androgens, (male sex hormones) control the building and function of a series of processes within the male body.
Testosterone: Considered most potent of all androgens and the foundation for male characteristics, testosterone is created in the testes and responsible for facial hair, the deepening of the voice, muscle mass and bone density, sexual function, stamina and competitive drive in males.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone): produced in the adrenal glands builds protein and helps with immune function in the body. It is also considered a precursor to other hormones like testosterone and estrogen, meaning that it can be converted to these hormones if levels in the blood are insufficient. The hormones cortisol and DHEA balance each other to maintain the immune system as well.
There are many reasons that the natural aging process may cause the overproduction or reduction of certain hormones in the male body. One of the important reasons involves the enzyme, aromatase. This essentially converts testosterone to estrogen in the male body, causing free testosterone levels to decline, as estrogen rises.
Other factors include:
- Increase in belly fat (which increases aromatase activity)
- Damage to tissues that are responsible for testosterone production
- Reduction in the synthesis of testicular testosterone
- Lower levels of precursors, such as DHEA
- Liver function and status of nutrition
When a hormone imbalance occurs, a man feels both the negative physical and psychological effects of aging.