Men's health and hormonal balance is fairly easy to learn and luckily guys, you can spend about 10 to 15 minutes and get the whole picture.
With age, testosterone levels decline but a healthy lifestyle and stress reduction can support testosterone levels throughout life. What we don't want is for stress-related cortisol to bring down testosterone prematurely and for weight issues to increase estrogen (which will interfere with the effects of testosterone). Here is a quick mnemonic:
Let's take a closer look at testosterone's benefits for men's health and the symptoms that can occur with hormonal imbalance.
Men's Health in a Nutshell
Testosterone provides men with balance in both physical and mental health. The levels of this important hormone peak in the late teens and early 20's and then gradually decline from age 35 onward. Every man is different, but men typically start experiencing the effects of lower testosterone from changes in sexual function, mood, energy levels, and overall health.
The change in male hormone levels with age is called Andropause (because male sex hormones are called androgens). While a decline of testosterone with age is natural--everyone's sex hormones go down with age--the effects are often more pronounced than they have to be due to factors such as stress, careless lifestyle and health habits, and weight gain.
Before we talk about the factors that accentuate declining testosterone levels and the resulting symptoms, let's go over how testosterone helps supports men's health. Click the next tab.
Believe it or not, libido is only one of the activities that testosterone is good at in the male body. Testosterone is like a quarterback, or coordinator, of the most important functions that help pull men's health together for a guy. Why don't these other functions get brought up more often? Because a weak libido is what often first starts a man on the road to exploring his health. It is helpful, however, to pay attention to the whole picture of what's happening because when you back up the whole team you have a better chance of scoring a touchdown--so to speak.
What does this mean? It means that supporting all the other functions of testosterone in the body, and not just the libido, will help the body get back its sexual vitality more naturally. Most men figure that some form of testosterone supplementation will solve all of their libido problems. Realistically, combining testosterone balance with overall health support will work best.
What does testosterone do for the male body other than support a healthy libido?
Testosterone supports the making of red blood cells, the production of proteins, and overall "building" energy in the body. Because of this, it helps keep muscle mass toned and strong in men. It also promotes healthy bone density.
Testosterone levels don't only support sexual energy in men. All energy is supported by this active hormone. This includes overall vitality and mental energy. When testosterone starts going down, so does energy in general.
Men don't tend to pack weight around their middles in younger age, but the risk goes up as testosterone later declines. For one, testosterone backs up a robust metabolism. Second, it mediates the actions of insulin on blood sugar, helping the body decide how best to use fuel.
Testosterone balance helps keep the mind clear and sharp, supports memory, and leads to better concentration. Likewise, it has a balancing effect on the mood. When testosterone goes down with age, both the mind and mood are affected with greater risk of depression and anxiety.
Heart health is supported by testosterone. For one, testosterone opposes the effects of cortisol to a certain point so that stress is mediated in the body. The lowered stress puts less stress on the heart. Testosterone also supports healthy weight, insulin function, and red blood cell production.
Though the effects of testosterone on the prostate aren't well understood, a healthy lifestyle and hormonal balance can help prevent early symptoms of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate) and reduce existing symptoms.
The next tab will talk more in depth about some lifestyle factors that lead interfere with the function of testosterone and block healthy levels of the hormone.
Just like with most hormones, testosterone imbalance is often created or worsened by lifestyle factors. What does testosterone crave? Low stress, healthy weight, a good diet, and good sleep. What does it often get? Unchecked stress levels, weight gain, a blah diet, and not enough good sleep. Let's look at each of these in turn.
Believe it or not, many guys can experience a boost in testosterone just by paying attention to what levels of stress they're going through. Men can be under a lot of pressure sometimes, and when the heat is on, there's only so much energy to go around in the body.
During stress, a lot of energy goes to the mind in the form of worries, anxieties, and repetitive thoughts. Another huge portion goes to the adrenal glands to make more cortisol, our stress-relief hormone. Cortisol is made from the same starting materials as testosterone is made from, and when stress goes up it places a burden on smooth testosterone production.
How else does stress interfere with testosterone? Often during stressful times, people don't sleep well. Men's bodies need sleep to restore health daily, allowing there to be enough energy to make testosterone. Stress and poor sleep habits also make men more prone to weight gain, another factor that places a burden on testosterone activity, as we'll explain below.
Oops, you did it again. The work day's stressful, so you grab some beers with buddies. Or you slack on paying attention to what you're eating and are reaching for some potato skins, because all of this obviously goes well with the game that's on. Sounds good, except it's been a stressful month and these habits are settling in weekly. It feels good in a way, but also not. And then you take a look at the scale and ten extra pounds have crept in, not to mention you're tired.
Sound familiar at all? The worst is when you're trying to rile up your sexual mood, and not only find it lacking but feel too out of shape for sex. Both men and women experience hormone imbalance from too much weight. It can creep in almost imperceptibly until you're feeling its effects. Fat cells--particularly ones around the abdomen--contain an enzyme that converts testosterone and androgens into the more female-type hormone estrogen. Even if you are making enough testosterone, extra weight could be robbing you of your supply by turning it into estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that then promotes more fat storage and bloating--uh oh. Men have small amounts of estrogen in their physiology, but the amount is small for a reason.
If you think about it, testosterone is a very energy-packed hormone. It lets you as a man lift heavy boxes and accomplish other physical feats that require a lot of strength. The average American diet doesn't necessarily fulfill testosterone's energetic needs. Younger men are used to eating whatever they want and feeling strong and energized anyway. As men get older, more sluggish diets will produce more sluggish bodies and lazier testosterone. A more balanced diet can do the opposite, supporting testosterone production, healthier weight, and more energy. By the way, walnuts and other healthy nuts are often considered good foods for boosting testosterone.
When andropause happens for men, low testosterone and sleep quality can interact negatively in a few ways.
For one, low testosterone can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea (difficulty breathing during sleep). This effect is worse for men who are overweight. Snoring makes it more difficult to get restorative sleep. Healthy testosterone levels also promote deeper sleep, which can be harder to achieve when levels are low.
Poor sleep has a host of effects that can affect testosterone levels even further, including fatigue, lower insulin sensitivity (and tendency toward weight gain), higher cortisol and stress levels, and low growth hormone levels. On top of that, poor sleep negatively affects the production of testosterone for men of all ages. For a boost in testosterone, it can often help to get back the boost in energy that comes from better sleep.
We talked earlier about stress and how it can negatively impact testosterone levels and energy. In fact, attending to the mind-body connection can go far in getting healthier testosterone levels at any age. More often than we realize, stuck emotions can create a roller coaster for hormone levels, making it harder for them to strike a natural balance in the body.
Everyone experiences anxieties, fears, worries, and other emotions such as depression once in a while. Our physiology reacts to the emotions and adjusts its hormones, neurotransmitters, and functioning based on what it registers. If we acknowledge this connection, we can be more in tune with times when hormones may be stressed and need some attention.
One way to check in with yourself is to make a note when symptoms are clustering together at the same time. For example, are you having a week where you're sleeping badly, experiencing indigestion a lot, and noticing a low libido? Instead of just popping a multivitamin or something like that, it'll be more useful to ask, "What's going on?" That question can lead you to start seeing what might be irking you and your physiology at the same time whether it's a specific situation, general anxieties, or just time to get more rest.
Though men notoriously don't like going to doctors compared to women (or like asking for directions), no guy can complain much about losing weight, boosting testosterone levels, or sleeping better. The most important strategies for achieving all this start in your own home. The common symptoms experienced from low testosterone in general or from andropause include:
- Decrease in erectile function
- Poor concentration and memory
- Insulin resistance and weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Musculoskeletal weakness
- Low energy
- Problems with prostate and urination
- More stress on the heart
- Mood swings
The Men's Health Stars will go into some of these symptoms more in depth. A lot of them are interconnected so that improvements in one symptom often cause healthy changes in other symptoms too. Keep this in mind as you read through each symptom.
Men's Health Stars
Click through the symptoms below to find out more about the stars that make up the men's health cluster. You'll notice how one star can easily affect other stars. For example, low testosterone can cause weight gain and they can both contribute to low libido. See how many connections you can spot among the men's health stars. For more information and help on how to resolve hormone imbalance that may be affecting your health, click on the button below to take the Men's Health Survey and visit our Services page.
Low testosterone can lead to dips in energy in a few different ways. First off, sleep is impacted by low levels of the sex hormone. Sleep apnea (basically snoring) is more common with low testosterone and makes it harder to get a decent night of rest. This problem becomes more extreme in men who are overweight as the extra tissue around the neck and throat can make it even harder to breathe smoothly during sleep. It may not seem like more than an annoyance at night, but the next day you may find that you're tired. Poor sleep leads to even lower levels of testosterone, and the cycle continues.
Second, low testosterone affects common neurotransmitters in the brain. Lowered levels of certain neurotransmitters can contribute to feeling depressed and unmotivated. It can be difficult to mentally feel like you have the energy to do everything you want to do, which can then affect the body's energy as well. Low energy and low mood often go together when testosterone declines.
Low testosterone also affects the metabolism and makes it more sluggish. You may find that weight is gained more easily and becomes a bigger challenge to shed. You may feel more tired after exercise or even mental exertion. The body's cells are used to a higher level of energy and activity that testosterone brings, so when its levels go down, the whole body experiences the change.
Low testosterone affects men's sexual function from different angles. Starting up higher, the mind actually has less energy to be interested in sex compared to before. Sex is both a mental and a physical act, and when testosterone goes down, the body lacks energy both cognitively and physically. That is why men who are in andropause will experience more challenges with memory, concentration, and other mental feats. When the mind can't be revved up for sexual activity, the message will be relayed to the whole body.
Physically, men who are experiencing lower testosterone levels often feel more tired than before. Because sex is a physical activity, the lower energy overall also affects libido. We don't usually think about how much energy goes into sexual activity, but without a build up of energy taking place it's hard to get aroused or reach climax during sex.
Another huge factor that affects sexual performance is stress. Accumulated stress releases cortisol from the adrenal glands. Higher cortisol levels tend to lower testosterone levels as they are both made out of the same starting materials, or molecules in the body. Cortisol is also a hormone that puts the body in alert mode in order to handle the "danger" that the body is registering physically and/or mentally. In alert mode, it's hard to relax the muscles and without relaxation of smooth muscles in the penis, adequate blood flow needed to start and maintain erection becomes a challenge.
Other changes to physiology happen during andropause that also make it challenging to experience a healthy libido and erectile function. Weight gain is common and since fat cells can convert testosterone into estrogen, testosterone levels can plummet even more. Low testosterone also predisposes someone to higher blood pressure, lipid and cholesterol levels, and blood circulation issues. Since an erection relies heavily on smooth blood flow, impediments in circulation can lead to or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone is an anabolic hormone. What this means is that it has a building activity in the body when it comes to muscles and bones. Testosterone helps make muscles and bones strong and resilient, allowing the male body to accomplish many things functionally and athletically during life. As testosterone goes down around andropause, muscle mass and bone density both decline in men. This process can make a man feel physically weaker than he used to.
It's important to remember at this time that though it may be harder to lift as many weights, run as far, or exercise as long, giving up exercise altogether may be a bad move. What is even more important for muscle tone and bone strength than testosterone is a balanced use of the body. Keeping it moving is important, just as long as you don't overdo it and cause injury. In addition, exercise helps:
- Reduce stress
- Shed pounds
- Lift up mood
- Increase circulation
- Promote good sleep, and
- Encourage a balanced diet
All of these things are a boost to testosterone levels (and libido).
Excess Weight, and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that tend to occur together, especially for men as testosterone levels decline with age. A healthy metabolism gives your body energy when it needs it without excess energy storage (in the form of fat). Insulin will ideally be released in just the right amounts depending on how much sugar is coming from your meal, and the cells will also respond quickly to insulin's signals to let the glucose in.
When men's testosterone levels decline with age, a lot of things can happen that throw a wrench into healthy metabolism and increase the likelihood of a metabolic syndrome picture. Testosterone boosts the body's energy and strength. Once low energy sets in, unless diet and physical activity are balanced, excess weight can start to set in particularly around the waist.
Excess weight will make the body's tissues more resistant to the effects of insulin. That means that when insulin is knocking on the doors of cells to let the glucose in, the cells just shrug and ignore the signal. Even more insulin needs to be released from the pancreas for any effect to take place and you now have "insulin resistance." With insulin resistance, blood sugar levels start climbing and even more fat is stored in the body.
With more fat, a man's lipid profiles, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure all start to creep up. The body is more burdened with excess sugars and fats that it can't process efficiently and will keep storing away around the waistline. These molecules also impede smooth blood flow in the blood vessels, placing a burden on blood pressure and the heart.
Metabolic syndrome is not just a picture of weight gain. Rather, it's a whole body effect that can come about more frequently for men when their attention to healthier lifestyle goes down alongside their levels of testosterone. The main symptoms are:
- Excess weight around the midsection
- Increased blood pressure
- High blood sugar level
- High cholesterol
The prostate is a small walnut-sized gland found only in males. It is located just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the canal that aids in urination. The prostate's main role is to eject fluid into the urethra as sperm move through it during sexual climax. No one usually thinks about their prostate until the years pass and the gland starts getting bigger, pressing on the urethra and causing urinary and bladder problems. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (or BPH). Benign means it isn't cancer and it also doesn't raise your risk for prostate cancer.
Though there are a few theories about how BPH develops, the cause is unknown. It is more likely in men as they age and in fact, almost all men with testicles experience it upon reaching older age. Here are the common symptoms:
- Weak urine stream with dribbling
- Urinary retention and incomplete emptying
- Waking up to pee during night
- Painful urination
- Strong sudden urge
For a medical work-up, doctors usually do a digital rectal exam to feel for prostate enlargement, perform a urinalysis and culture to check for infection, and test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood to rule out prostate cancer.
Depression and Mood Changes
The decline in testosterone that comes with age also causes a natural dip in other men's health areas. Lower energy, a change in musculoskeletal strength and tone, and lower libido can all make men experience more frustration and mood changes than before. It isn't completely clear through research, but the lower testosterone may also affect levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, directly leading to a greater risk of depression and other mood changes.
All sex hormones have an energizing effect on not only the body, but also the mind. When testosterone declines, it can be difficult to feel like a floor is dropping out from under your feet that felt more sturdy before. The floor may represent your body's quick resilience, a high energy level, a level mood, a strong libido, an ideal weight, or some other factor that you were accustomed to at another point in life.
But just because your body's testosterone levels dip doesn't mean you can't feel that floor again, both physically and mental-emotionally. It won't be the same as during your twenties, but you don't want to go backward toward that time anyway! What you can achieve today with your health will be better for the man you are today.
Often, managing stress can help support healthy mood and mindset as well as help balance testosterone levels. Lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can also make powerful strides in how you're feeling overall. Bioidentical hormone replacement from compounding pharmacies makes it possible for you to supplement testosterone in a form that's identical to what's made in your body.
The point is, there are many resources out there and within you that can help support changes in mood and other effects of lowered testosterone. It's all in the way you look at it.