Everyone has heard of menopause. Fewer know about the decline in male hormones in middle age called andropause.
Andropause is not really a pause where the body stops its normal cycling of hormones, as happens in menopause. Rather, it is a very gradual and normal decline in the production of male hormones as a man ages, explains Phillip Ross, M.D., a urologist with Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation.
This loss of hormones, in particular testosterone, is behind many of the physical symptoms you may associate with middle age in men, such as a tendency to put on weight, feeling more tired and experiencing a decline in sex drive.
“While the normal midlife passage of menopause for women is clearly defined, what happens to men is less consistent, clear or even talked about,” Dr. Ross explains. “There is a measurable decline in testosterone – and other male hormones – that actually begins as early as the 30s. Production of male hormones peaks for men in their late teens to early 20s. Then it begins a slow, slight decline.”
Because the decline in male hormones is gradual, you may not notice a change for many years. However, once you enter your 40s or 50s, the signs of lower hormone levels may become clearer. By the time men reach their 60s, a quarter may show laboratory evidence of low testosterone – and by age 80, half will.
Although andropause usually does not require treatment, if male hormone levels get very low, it can begin to impact a man’s quality of life and health. Ron Cotterel, M.D., a family medicine physician with Sutter Medical Foundation, has a special interest in complementary medicine and works with men to manage physical concerns of declining hormone levels in ways that work best for them.
“Although all men will show some decline in testosterone, many men will retain functional testosterone levels normal for their age throughout life,” Dr. Cotterel says. “And the way in which the testosterone change affects men varies from person to person.”