Bioidentical Hormones for Men
Women are not the only ones who could benefit from bioidentical hormones. In fact, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) has gained a great deal of popularity among men in recent years. Men have hormones too, and like women, men experience a decline in hormones as they age. In men, this decline is referred to as andropause. Additionally, men are also susceptible to a variety of non-age-related hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid disorders, adrenal fatigue, growth hormone deficiencies and metabolic syndrome. Fortunately, all of these conditions can be easily corrected with the use of bioidentical hormones.
Andropause, also referred to as male menopause, describes the gradual decline in testosterone that all men experience as they age. Testosterone levels typically peak in a man’s mid to late twenties and gradually declines with each passing year. As testosterone production declines, levels of other hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, begin to increase. These hormonal fluctuations make it increasingly difficult for the remaining testosterone to function effectively. The resulting testosterone deficiency brings on many of the same symptoms that women experience during menopause: hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, irritability, diminished sex drive, fatigue, hair loss, insomnia and decreased muscle mass. The key difference between menopause and andropause is that with andropause, hormone imbalances evolve gradually over time causing symptoms to go unnoticed or be dismissed as a normal part of the aging process. Although hormone levels fluctuate as men get older, natural hormone balance can be achieved at any age.
The thyroid gland is located at the front base of your neck, resembling the shape of a butterfly – a thin bridge flanked by two lobes. The thyroid works with the pituitary gland to help regulate the body’s metabolism, among other physiological functions. The thyroid gland produces several key hormones, including triidothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). A thyroid imbalance occurs when the thyroid gland produces too few or too many of these hormones. The resulting imbalances fall into one of two conditions: hypothyroidism (underactive) and hyperthyroidism (overactive). Symptoms of thyroid imbalance vary depending on the type of imbalance, but generally include unexplained changes in weight, heat/cold intolerance, fatigue, loss of muscle mass and strength, cognitive impairment and chronic fatigue. Although thyroid imbalances are more common among women, millions of men are diagnosed with thyroid conditions each year. In fact, many doctors believe that the prevalence is much greater than current estimates – millions of men are living with undiagnosed thyroid disorders due infrequent visits and communication with their healthcare practitioners.
If you have been feeling fatigued, had trouble sleeping, your hair is thinning or falling out or you have had significant changes in the frequency of your bowel movements—you may have a thyroid disorder. Your doctor may run a single lab test to determine your thyroid level; however, you should be aware that most healthcare providers recognize a broad range of normal when it comes to this thyroid test, and even fewer go on to test the other hormones affected by thyroid disorder. For example, by traditional methods, doctors are trained to read TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels as “normal” if they are in the range of 0.35 to 5.0. Physisans that dedicate their practice and expertise to hormones are trained to examine lab results in terms of optimal functioning. For TSH, this range is 0.5 to 2.5—a more greatly defined range.
In addition to testing your TSH levels, a hormone expert would also examine your T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) levels. There many types of thyroid disorders and each can have a serious impact on your health and quality of life.
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands located on top of the kidneys. The primary function of the adrenal glands is to regulate the production of a variety of hormones and neurochemicals, including estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine and dopamine. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands become overworked, either due to chronic stress or a preexisting hormone imbalance, such as andropause or thyroid disorders. Adrenal fatigue is characterized by an overall feeling of lethargy and sluggishness. Other symptoms include insomnia, irritability, anxiety, lack of motivation and depression. In addition to hormone imbalance, other factors can also influence the likelihood of adrenal fatigue, such as diet, physical activity and environmental toxins.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Men
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in men vary depending on the nature of the imbalance; however, with proper testing, the source of the underlying imbalance can be corrected and symptom relief is possible.
Choose from one of the symptoms below to learn more:
Hair loss – Hair loss and hormones are closely related. Erratic fluctuations in testosterone can inhibit the hair follicles ability to regenerate properly and lead to male pattern baldness. In fact, DHT (dihydrotestosterone) – a derivative of testosterone – is said to be one of the most common causes of hair loss in men. DHT is significantly stronger than testosterone and leads to follicle regression. As men age, the testosterone to DHT conversion occurs at a higher rate, making men more susceptible to hair loss.
Weight Gain – Hormone-related weight gain is typically caused by low levels of testosterone in conjunction with increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol secretion is part of the “fight or flight” response of the body when encountering stressful situations. During periods of chronic stress, high cortisol levels keep the body in a constant state of alert, causing the body to retain fat by slowing the metabolism. Cortisol has also been shown to increase appetite and decrease energy levels, contributing to weight gain.
Low Sex Drive – It is quite common for men to experience a dip in libido as they age. While many factors can impact the male sex drive, the most notorious culprit is hormone imbalances. Men rely on testosterone to maintain a healthy sex drive. In addition to declining testosterone levels, increased levels of the female hormone, estrogen, may have a negative impact on sexual desire. The relationship between low libido and hormone imbalance is multifaceted – the symptoms of each often overlap, such as erectile dysfunction, depression and fatigue.
Fatigue – There is a great misconception about fatigue as it relates to getting older. Many people believe that it is normal to experience a decrease in energy levels with age. While this is true to an extent, chronic fatigue is often due to a medical issue and should be addressed by a doctor if the condition begins to interfere with daily activities. There are many causes of fatigue, including diet, stress, sleep habits and even toxins within the environment. However, in most cases, chronic fatigue in men is due to an underlying hormone imbalance. For example, during andropause, declining testosterone levels can tax a man’s energy reserves to the point of exhaustion, leading to lethargy, insomnia, weight gain and irritability.
Irritability – There is a strong correlation between testosterone imbalance and irritability in men. In fact, andropause is often synonymous with “irritable male syndrome (IMS)” – a constellation of symptoms, including irritability, anger, hypersensitivity, anxiety, mood swings, low libido and headaches. High cortisol levels brought on by chronic stress in conjunction with waning testosterone levels can make men feel anxious, irritable and depressed. Additionally, elevated estrogen levels have also been linked to IMS in men.
Gynecomastia – Gynecomastia, or in laymen’s terms -“man-boobs”– refers to atypical breast enlargement in men. The condition often presents in men aged 50 years and older and is often the result of a hormone imbalance. The most common cause of gynecomastia is elevated estrogen levels. Obese men are at a greater risk of experiencing gynecomastia because excess body fat creates more estrogen, further disrupting natural hormone balance. However, other hormonal factors may also come into play. Thyroid imbalances, such as hypothyroidism, have been known to cause atypical breast enlargement in men as well. In addition to hormonal causes, diet, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise may also contribute to male breast enlargement.
Muscle Loss – Muscle loss in men is a common symptom of andropause. While a poor diet and physical inactivity can also contribute to muscle loss in men, the primary culprit is declining testosterone levels. It is estimated that the average inactive male will lose approximately 0.5 percent of his muscle mass and strength each year, between the ages of 25 and 60. After age 60, a man will typically lose approximately 1 percent each year until age 70, when the annual rate increases to 2 percent. Without adequate testosterone levels, the body has a hard time repairing and rebuilding muscle mass, regardless of physical activity.
Hot flashes and Night Sweats – Although more common in women, night sweats and hot flashes affect men as well. Male hot flashes and night sweats are the result of a severe testosterone deficiency. Testosterone impacts the regulation of body temperature, which is regulated by the hypothalamus portion of the brain. Hot flashes occur when the hypothalamus receives false signals from neurotransmitters suggesting that the body is overheating. In an effort to expel the excess heat, the body naturally reacts with a warm, flushed sensation, usually accompanied by sweating. When these hot flashes occur in the middle of the night, they are referred to as night sweats.
Erectile Dysfunction – Erectile dysfunction (ED) is very common during andropause. It is typical for men to lose interest in sex due to declining levels of testosterone. This lack of sexual desire can manifest itself physically, impacting a man’s ability to achieve and sustain an erection. There are also times when a man desires sex but cannot achieve an erection. This is often due to a blockage of nitric oxide, which is released to relax to muscles of the penis. Regardless whether the condition is caused by lack of desire or performance issues, declining testosterone levels are commonly to blame.
Depression – It is not uncommon to feel sad or depressed on occasion, however if feelings or sadness, frustration and depression continue for an extended period of time, it may be beneficial to consult a healthcare professional. Studies have shown that men, who are testosterone deficient, are up to four times more likely to suffer from depression than those with balanced levels. Mood disorders are not exclusively linked to testosterone – all hormones have a significant impact on mood and sense of well-being. Even the slightest imbalance can have a rippling effect and interfere with a variety of physiological processes, leading to additional symptoms that increase the occurrence of depression.
How BHRT Can Help
Men suffering from andropause or other conditions related to aging can find resolve, naturally and effectively, through bioidentical hormone therapy. Studies have shown that BHRT is an effective method for restoring hormone levels to optimal ranges without risks or side effects. It is important to remember that there no “fountain of youth” that will literally stop aging in its tracks, but there is a lot that may be done to help men regain the energy and vitality that they had in their youth.
Preventive health begins with awareness – knowing and monitoring your hormone levels throughout life can ensure you age well. Physicians who specialize in hormone replacement therapy can test and evaluate your levels at any stage in life – either to ensure you maintain healthy levels throughout your life or to restore levels. Based upon your current levels, a physician will tailor a customized treatment regimen, specifically designed to meet your individual needs.
To find a highly-trained physician specializing in bioidentical hormones in your area, visit our Physician Directory.