Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
Ageing can be a difficult time, life expectancy is longer and we tend to live healthier lives which can make us feel younger than our years suggest.
However, hormonal changes can be abrupt and confusing. In this article we take a look at the following points:
- Simliarities and differences
As we age our bodies face a lot of changes including decreased strength, wrinkling, the onset of certain diseases, and variation in our hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers synthesized by our bodies.
They carry signals and act on various tissues to produce tissue-specific effects. For instance, insulin acts on your muscle and fat cells and tells them to absorb glucose.
Variations in our hormones occur throughout our lives especially when we age. Two common manifestations of hormonal changes are menopause and andropause, in females and males respectively. These terms can be confusing at times so let’s go through them in this article.
The Common Similarities and Differences
Menopause and andropause both refer to the decrease of specific female and male hormones, respectively. The reason behind the decline for both cases is age.
As you age, your body cells get tired and eventually work less efficiently leading to a decline in the body’s hormonal levels.
Apart from occurring in different genders, a classical difference between these two scenarios is that menopause occurs suddenly and andropause develops gradually over time and is highly variable in different people.
You might have heard this term being used for women around you, hitting their mid-late 40’s.
Menopause is a physiological (not a disease) process in which women have a sudden cessation of menstruation and an abrupt drop in their sex hormones, especially estrogen. A woman must have missed her periods for consecutive 12 months to have menopause.
As mentioned above the usual onset for menstruation in normal females is in their 40s and 50s of age but the average age for menopause in the UK is 51. Furthermore, because it happens suddenly it does create some problems.
Estrogen, along with progesterone, is the primary female hormone. They are essential for female-specific growth e.g., growth of breast tissue, vagina, and the uterus.
At the onset of menopause, the ovaries (female reproductive organs) stop producing these hormones causing a sharp decline in their blood levels.
For most women, this change does cause unpleasant experiences to some extent. Some of these effects that you might want to know are:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats and chills
- Vaginal dryness or irritation
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
- Agitation or depressed mood
- Decreased libido (decreased sexual drive)
These symptoms can start to appear even before your menopause has started due to decreasing hormones in the body and can last for up to 4 years after your last period.
Yes, that sounds irritating. However, there are specific ways you can lessen or completely treat your symptoms. Contact your physician if you don’t want these annoying menopausal symptoms disturbing your everyday life.
It is devastating for most men to think about a decrease in their testosterone levels. Testosterone (T) is the hormone that makes men different from women, i.e., gives them that manly beard, muscles, etc.
Without testosterone, you won’t have any of these along with other undesirable effects. Andropause or ‘male menopause are common misleading terms that mean a decrease in testosterone levels in males around the ages of 40 and 50.
These terms suggest that the male population goes through a similar process of menopause (in females), however, this is not entirely correct.
While there is a slight decrease in the testosterone levels as you get old, it isn’t as sudden and symptomatic as it is in the women population.
The sex hormone changes, as opposed to the sudden onset of menopause, are gradual and vary among people. On average, there is an annual decrease or less than 2% in the serum testosterone levels after the age of 40, which is mostly insignificant.
According to some research, only 10% to 25% of the men after the age of 40 will have low testosterone levels.
Anyway, we should know several things about this change in the T-levels. Firstly, as mentioned above, this change occurs very slowly over the period of years.
It, usually, does not cause those abrupt ‘withdrawal symptoms’ that you might get when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol or quit smoking.
Also, many males are often asymptomatic (show no signs) even if their testosterone levels are low. No one wants to be in the low T-levels category, and you might consider watching out for these symptoms:
- Decreased libido (reduced sexual desire)
- Decreased muscle mass
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Having problems with erection
- Having problems with sexual intercourse
- Weight loss
- Low mood or mood swings
For most men, this decrease might be due to several correctable problems. Some of the common conditions or lifestyle habits that might lead you to andropause include:
- Obesity – having a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or over is linked with low T-levels
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Poor routine – especially having poor sleep habits
- Drinking a lot of alcohol
- Other underlying diseases like hypopituitarism, gonadal atrophy, and metabolic syndrome
At times, someone might have an unexpected decrease in their sex hormones, and it might not have a known cause.
Fortunately, with today’s clinical advancements you have a high chance of getting your T-levels back to normal.
If you have an underlying condition, treating that condition might be the solution for you. Other than that, there are synthetic testosterone formulations available that can be used in a prescribed manner to get adequate testosterone in your body while reducing the adverse effects.
For most of us, it will take us to quit some of our bad habits, take a control of any underlying diseases, eat healthily, and become physically active to raise our testosterone levels.
After a certain age, you can also be recommended for testosterone therapy reducing your symptoms and making your everyday life enjoyable.
Menopause and andropause are two distinct processes that occur normally in females and males, respectively.
These events are due to the normal aging of our bodies and are relatively uncomplicated. However, for some people, they might cause some unwanted effects.
Nevertheless, you have therapies and research available for making the best out of your menopause and andropause.
- Snyder PJ. Approach to older men with low testosterone. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 6, 2020. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/use-of-androgens-and-other-hormones-by-athletes
- Qaseem A, et al. Testosterone treatment in adult men with age-related low testosterone: A clinical guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2020; doi:10.7326/M19-0882.
- Melmed S, et al. Endocrinology and aging. In: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 6, 2020. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6992389/
- Bhasin S, et al. Testosterone therapy in men with hypogonadism: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2018; doi:10.1210/jc.2018-00229.
- Male menopause: Myth vs. fact. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2014; doi 10.1210/jc.2014-v99i10-49A.
- Diem SJ, et al. Efficacy and safety of testosterone treatment in men: An evidence report for a clinical practice guideline by the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2020; doi:10.7326/M19-0830.