Andropause-The “Change of Life” for Men – By Liz Johnson
Andropause is the slow change that occurs with age in men’s bodies. Some men age gracefully, others get caught in hormonal shifts that effect mood, memory, thinking, sex drive, weight, and more. It is not just testosterone levels that change-thyroid hormones, melatonin, DHEA, DHT, estrogen, 5-alpha reductase, and other hormones shift with age. Just when these shifts occur, and how strongly they affect the body, varies from person to person. It is believed that diet, environment, and genetics all play a role in how andropause affects individual men. The age range for the onset of andropause is pretty wide-anywhere from 35 to 60. So, this is not normally a disorder of rapid changes, but rather a series of slow changes that may go unnoticed for years.
A number of herbs have been used over the years to combat aging and the effects of andropause, from sarsaparilla to he shou wu, Devil’s club to tulsi. Some of these herbs seem to be especially useful for many men with andropause today, and some have lost popularity over the decades but deserve a second look.
Sarsaparilla is one of those herbs that was popular among men a long time ago when it was treated the way ginseng is treated today, as an energy booster. Sarsaparilla contains steroids that the body can convert into other steroids it needs, including estrogen or testosterone, and has been popular as a muscle builder. It makes a tasty addition to a tea and is easy to use.
Saw Palmetto-perhaps best known for helping men with enlarged prostates-also has a place in treatment for andropause as it acts to balance estrogen and testosterone levels in the body. All people make estrogen, just as we all make testosterone. Men make very little estrogen, but when that little bit is out of balance with testosterone levels, it can make a big difference in how men feel, think, and behave. Not only does estrogen affect how we think, but it also inhibits the breakdown of DHT. This is one reason it is useful in fighting prostate enlargement.
What is DHT? DHT, or dihydrostestosterone, is a form of testosterone that makes boys, boys-and men, men. Its levels in the body increase with age, and when the body feels it is getting too much DHT, andropause can set in. There are two ways that the body can think it is getting too much DHT. The level of DHT can be normal, but the other hormones it needs to balance with can be off, making the body feel as though there is too much DHT. Alternately, there can just be too much DHT!
DHT can do some wonderful things, like making men, men. It can also have a positive effect on certain cancers, create hairy chests and strong beards. It also encourages baldness, prostate enlargement, possibly prostate cancers, and more. So it has its good points and its bad points. The key is to keep production and reception of DHT at healthy levels and to keep DHT in a good balance with other hormones, like testosterone and estrogen.
One more little chemical the body produces also affects andropause: 5-alpha reductase. As we age, men produce more 5-alpha reductase, a chemical that gets the body to convert testosterone to DHT. As the level of 5-alpha reductase increases, so does the amount of DHT in the body. Saw Palmetto inhibits the production of 5-alpha reductase, keeps what DHT is made of from binding with all of the cells it can, and encourages the breakdown of DHT. This is yet another reason for Saw Palmetto in men’s health.
An herb that is often associated with women also deserves a place here: Black Cohosh. It is useful in andropause, in part, for the same reason it is useful to women. Black Cohosh inhibits luteinizing hormone, or LH. LH rises as we age. This hormone has an effect on estrogen, which brings us back to the importance of healthy estrogen levels and a healthy balance of estrogen to testosterone. This is where Black Cohosh has an important role to play in men’s health.
Pumpkin seeds are also a wonderful food and herb for men. Known for their high zinc content, pumpkin seeds go a long way in feeding healthy drives in men as well as women. Zinc is another fighter of 5-alpha reductase, so it brings testosterone levels up and DHT levels down.
Milk thistle, a classic liver booster, can play an important role in helping the liver deal with changing hormone levels and the demands that this can place on the liver. Milk thistle also helps to repair liver from damage that can be done over the years by poor diet, drinking, medications, and other stressors.
Herbs that are popular for helping the body maintain a healthy hormone balance include ginseng. Ginseng may not be the best choice for all men. Many an amateur has used it to boost energy levels, but there are other, easier-to-use herbs. These herbs can often be used for longer periods of time and are not as easy to overdo. They include Fo Ti, or He Shou Wu, also Gotu Cola, Eleuthero, Angelica, Muira Puma, Maca, Ashwagandha, Tulsi, and more. Each has its own unique effects, but all are classified as adaptogens, like ginseng. Adaptogens help the body deal with stress-a major contributor to andropause. Finding the right adaptogen, or the right blend of adaptogens, can be done by trial and error, or with the help of a professional herbalist.
Occasional use of Tribulus can be a good way to achieve a romantic evening and is often recommended for andropause. The catch with this herb is that its cumulative effect is much like the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Eventually the body doesn’t believe the Tribulus and allows the testosterone levels to sink even lower than they were before. Despite the promotion that this herb gets, this is not a good herb for daily use for most men. It has its place in infertility treatments and impotence treatments, but professional help is advisable before using Tribulus.
So many wonderful herbs help us to stay happy and healthy that there simply is not enough space in an article to cover all of the possibilities. Cautious exploration, with safety in mind, can bring great rewards. Check with experts qualified in the use of herbs before use.
Liz Johnson is a local herbalist with nearly twenty years experience. Visit FireWind.com for more information about her practice and classes. Or reach Liz at 952-846-7464.