Menopause is something that most people with ovaries will go through. Marking the time when periods stop because of lower hormone levels (usually between the ages of 45 and 55), the transitional period causes a range of well-known symptoms, from hot flashes to sleep problems and mood changes.
However, few know that there’s actually a similar condition which can affect people with a penis, and it’s called andropause.
Earlier this week, Happy Mondays and Celebrity Gogglebox star Shayn Ryder opened up about his experience with the syndrome.
“I was tired all the time, [and] could barely be bothered leaving the house. My libido was gone and I was miserable,” he told the Daily Star. “A routine blood test showed my testosterone levels were at zero… I’ve been having HRT (hormone replacement therapy) ever since and it’s changed my life for the better.”
So, what is andropause?
According to the National Library of Medicine, andropause is a disorder that becomes more prevalent as people age, and like in Ryder’s case, the symptoms suggest a testosterone deficiency in the body. “Prominent among them are sexual symptoms like loss of libido, morning penile erection and erectile dysfunction,” the organisation says.
“While many men do experience age-related changes in hormone levels, not all men will exhibit significant andropause symptoms,” says Dr. Babak Asahfi, a Superdrug online doctor and specialist in men’s health.
“The severity and onset of these symptoms can vary widely among individuals. This is mostly governed by people’s genetic makeup, but like with all health-related issues, leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce the severity of the symptoms experienced by a decline in testosterone.”
The NHS website bolsters Dr. Asahfi’s point. “Although testosterone levels fall as men age, the decline is steady at about 1% a year from around the age of 30 to 40, and this is unlikely to cause any problems in itself,” it reads.
“A testosterone deficiency that develops later in life, also known as late-onset hypogonadism, can sometimes be responsible for these symptoms, but in many cases the symptoms are nothing to do with hormones,” it continues, listing lifestyle and psychological influences like stress, a poor diet and high alcohol consumption as factors that could be responsible.
According to the NHS, other non-sexual symptoms of andropause to look out for include:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Loss of muscle mass and reduced ability to exercise
- Fat redistribution, such as developing a large belly or “man boobs”
- A general lack of enthusiasm or energy
- Difficulty sleeping or increased tiredness
- Poor concentration and short-term memory
Why shouldn’t we call it ‘male menopause’?
Describing the comparison of female menopause and ‘male menopause’ as “problematic”, Dr. Asahfi says the processes are completely different.
“While female menopause typically occurs in the late 40s to early 50s, a decline in testosterone among men varies in timing, usually happening later, from the late 40s to the 60s,” he says. “Female menopause is marked by well-defined physical changes, such as the end of menstruation, reproductive organ alterations, and higher risks of osteoporosis and heart problems… In contrast, ‘male menopause’ primarily involves shifts in sexual function and mood, with fewer clearly defined physical changes.”
What should we do, and how can we improve awareness?
According to Dr. Asahfi, living a healthy lifestyle is key to alleviating symptoms of andropause. “Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats is a great way to balance your hormones which is at the heart of these symptoms,” he says. “This coupled with regular exercise will also help to improve your emotional and mental well-being.”
Additionally, testosterone levels can be checked to assess whether replacement therapy (like what Ryder has received) may be needed.
“The impact of a decline in testosterone in older men is a topic that is not discussed regularly in social or education settings, and is something that a lot of men don’t realise may occur,” Dr. Asahfi continues.
“Education is probably the key thing to focus on when aiming to raise awareness, which can be achieved through more accessible patient resources, more in-depth and insightful media coverage and easily accessible support groups.”