Aging is not for sissies. As the years pass, many men come into the complaints of mid life… the beer belly, the lack of strength when working out and a lower libido than in years past. The culprit, experts once believed, was testosterone, because men naturally start to make less of it as the years pass. A deficiency of this male sex hormone was thought to be the sole reason that a man might start feeling the typical midlife complaints. But another surprising fact has come out, one that doctors think might encourage more study of how men’s bodies age.
It seems that estrogen, the female sex hormone, plays a much bigger role in a man’s body than anyone thought. Falling levels are part of the reason for the expanding waistline, just the same as in a woman. The idea that estrogen has a role for men is a major advance according to Dr. Peter J. Snyder who is a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Snyder is leading a large research project on hormone therapy for men over 65 years old to try and find out which hormone does what in a man, and how body functions are impacted at different levels of hormone.
Until now, experts have focused almost exclusively on how estrogen affects women and how testosterone affects men. Estrogen is made from testosterone in both men and women, with men making so much that they end up with almost two times the amount as postmenopausal women. As the levels of both hormones naturally go down with age, the body naturally changes.
A recent study appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine provided the most conclusive evidence to date that estrogen is a big part of male midlife problems. Some male problems blamed on testosterone deficiency now appear to be almost exclusively caused by the drop in estrogen. It suggests that different side effects kick in at different levels of deficiency in testosterone. Testosterone is the chief regulator of muscle tone and lean body mass, but it doesn’t take as much of this hormone as we thought to maintain muscles. For a young man 550 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood serum is the level considered average, a reading of under 300 nanograms is thought to be so low that treatment with testosterone gels is needed. But this level is arbitrary, without a clinical rationale.
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The Impact Of Estrogen On Waistline Continued…
Muscle strength and size are unaffected until testosterone levels get under 500 nanograms. The accumulation of fat happens at the levels at the higher end of the deficit spectrum, 300-350 nanograms. In terms of sexual desire and performance, both call for estrogen and testosterone and these hormones improve things in this area as they go up. It’s too early to make specific recommendations, and no one is suggesting men take estrogen as high doses cause feminine features to appear.
The hope is that treatment with testosterone might help men walk more quickly, feel more vigorous, have better function sexually, help mentally and strengthen his bones.
To understand what’s behind the changes in a middle-aged man in your life, talk frankly with his doctor. If he is having sexual problems, taking testosterone may bring a benefit. But if he’s complaining of flagging muscle strength or other midlife symptoms, something else might be involved.
To your good health,