It's the month of 'Movember', when men's health takes centre stage and we all start checking our prostate...
Another health issue, not far from your prostate, is testosterone and andropause - the male menopause!
Yes, that's right. Men's hormones are affected by age too.
What is Andropause?
Andropause is a term used by some to describe the age-related changes in testosterone and the effects they may cause. It is not as dramatic and easily defined as the female menopause as the results are gradual, building up over several years and there is still some medical debate as to whether andropause should be considered a 'real' condition.
There is no doubt though that a reduction in testosterone makes a difference on many levels.
From the age of 30 men's testosterone production drops by around 1% a year. The gradual reduction in rampant libido and risk-taking behaviour that most men notice as they get older is a testament to this. There is a hormonal basis to 'growing up' as some would see it.
When the testes produce testosterone in amounts too small to do the job it is meant to, it is known as hypogonadism. Aging (or Andropause) is one of the many causes and it is made much more likely by being overweight or having Type 2 diabetes.
What are the Symptoms of Andropause?
Symptoms linked to low testosterone levels include:
● Depression or mood swings and irritability
● A loss of libido and erectile dysfunction
● A lack of motivation and difficulties concentrating
● Loss of muscle mass and feeling less able to exercise
● Development of breasts and increased belly fat
These symptoms are typically seen as men reach their late 40s and early 50s but of course these are all non-specific symptoms and could be related to things other than low testosterone levels.
What else could be causing these symptoms?
Much more commonly these symptoms are caused by life stresses such as money, work or family relationships; or lifestyle factors like alcohol, smoking, no exercise, poor diet, and not enough sleep.
When to see your GP
Most men would prefer not to have to discuss their sex-lives or general lack of vigour but these symptoms can have a huge negative impact on your life. It is worth a trip to your GP who will almost certainly not laugh at you about any of this. Your GP is likely to include a blood test to check your testosterone levels as part of a check-up.
What treatments can be offered?
If you're unfit and overweight you are certainly going to be told to do something about it! Exercising your muscles (muscle strengthening) is a very potent way of naturally increasing your testosterone levels. Men's bodies and minds are not designed to be idle. It is bad for you on every level, so get off the sofa!
If your tests are all normal then the doctor is going to explore a psychological cause for the symptoms. Depressive problems are very common and is actually the most likely cause of the symptoms. There's lots of help for this - once again starting with exercise, and including talking therapies and sometimes antidepressant medications.
If your blood test shows that you are low in testosterone, you'll be referred to a specialist in hormones (endocrinologist) who will double check for any reasons why. Luckily testosterone is very easily replaced if needed. It comes in gels, patches, tablets and injections. It is very easily absorbed through the skin. Like with any medicine that actually does anything, there are potential risks and side effects which need consideration but if the cause of your problems is due to low testosterone the improvement - both physical and mental, can be dramatic.
Dr Seth Rankin is founder of London Doctors Clinic