Dec 27

Andropause is an onset of hormonal changes in men – mostly between the ages of 40 and 50 -, which is triggered by reduced testosterone levels.

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and is produced in the testes. It affects all body cells and is responsible not only for sexual development, but also for the specific skin, bone and muscle structure of men. It is equally important for the production of red blood cells, which supply the body with oxygen. And after all, testosterone also plays a significant role in providing sexual pleasure and emotional balance. At around one’s middle years, however, the production of this hormone gradually drops, and so do the testosterone levels in the blood. This reduction causes problems for many affected men: in German language, the saying “die Fitness ist kraftlos und die Lenden sind saftlos” (freely translated as ‘no gas in the muscles, no fluids in the loins”) expresses the feeling when the so-called andropause kicks in: depression, irritability, loss of concentration and vitality.

Possible symptoms of the andropause include:

  • Mood disorders such as anxiety, irritability, aggression
  • Tendency to depression
  • Increased weight and body fat, increasing abdominal girth
  • Increasingly poor short-term memory
  • Decreased concentration and attention span
  • Sleep problems and / or stronger daytime fatigue than before
  • Reduced desire for intimacy and lower sex drive..
  • ..or rational desire for sex, but still, sexual apathy
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Less frequent and intense ejaculation
  • Osteoporosis
  • low self-esteem
  • Hot flashes and night sweats

There are, however, considerable differences of opinion among experts as to which of these symptoms actually indicate a so-called ‘male menopause’ or andropause and were initially caused by testosterone deficiency, because for each of the symptoms in the list, there could be other root causes, even if a reduced testosterone level would actually be detected in a patient. Thus, in a way, the so-called ‘testosterone replacement therapy’ is often not much more than a ‘shot in the dark’.

Testosterone replacement therapy – yes or no?

Some doctors and hospitals today offer testosterone replacement therapy without much hesitation to men, often with the particular aim of helping them to regain their desire for a satisfying love life. Even with impending cardiovascular diseases, this hormone is sometimes used for prevention, because studies have shown that testosterone has a protective effect on arteries and veins, so there are good, potential reasons to say ‘yes’ to this kind of therapy (usually in the form of tablets, gels, patches or nose sprays). However, it is important to know that a hormone replacement therapy does not help at all if one simultaneously depletes his bodies’ health and resources. It is remarkable and perhaps not entirely coincidental that many men who are looking to start a hormone replacement therapy are also often frivolous users of  ‘fitness booster medication’ (self-medicated).

Ideally, taking on an artificial testosterone substitution should increase muscle mass, bone density, libido and performance. Under certain conditions, the ‘extra dose’ testosterone may also accelerate the development of an existing prostate cancer. A preventive control (PSA control) is therefore highly advisable.

But there are also proven health tips for men, which in contrast to the artificial feeding of testosterone reliably pose no health risks and are also very well suited to raise the testosterone levels:

  • Development of more self-discipline for a healthy lifestyle – something that many men never achieved in their lives
  • Balanced nutrition (vitamins: more fruit and vegetables; low-fat: greasy, oily foods and refined carbohydrates lead to weight gain, but: obesity appears to influence the production of testosterone!)
  • The waist circumference should be less than 100 cm (see BMI test on this website)
  • Enough sleep – at least 6-8 hours per day
  • Care for a balanced mental state – if something brings you out of your balance on a reglar basis, seek necessary support through psychotherapy or coaching: optimism and a balanced state of mind help to reduce stress. On the other hand, if men are overloaded (perhaps even chronic), endocrine glands will produce significantly less amounts male sex hormones.
  • Smoke and drink less
  • Natural resources: oats and ginseng have a testosterone-like effect, and an extra portion of zinc also helps the testosterone levels: lobsters, oysters and shrimp, soybeans, wheat bran and pumpkin seeds. Casanova was known to eat 40 oysters a day!
  • Exercising also stimulates the production of testosterone: best results are achieved with intense strength training with sets of 10-15 reps, peppered with breaks of 60-90 seconds (intervals of 15-30 sec will stimulate the production of growth hormone).
  • Good sex: sexual excitement and ‘games of desire’ help to raise our hormone levels over a period of up to two days and thus counteract the natural way of deficiency. Even erotic fantasies will stimulate testosterone production in the short term, falling in love raises our testosterone for up to many months.

Men have the luxury of being able to affect their hormone levels through their lifestyle more than women, because their hormonal situation does not change so abruptly and radically with age.

In the “self test” on my website you will find a self-test for testosterone deficiency, which can allow an initial self-assessment. In case of doubt, a medical examination with blood test is recommended.

(Initially published in German language (‘Testosteron-Spiegel erhöhen’) in 10/2010. Image source: understandinglowt.com)

Aug 05

Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Well, we all know: quitting smoking reduces the risk of terrible illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease. It increases fertility levels, breathing and overall fitness. Another benefit of quitting is enjoying the taste of food again. You will look and smell better and on top of it all, save a lot of money.  Why then is it so hard for many to stop the habit – or addiction – of smoking?

The reasons for smoking addiction can be cut down to 2 important factors: nicotine and habits.

Nicotine, for one, is a highly addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco, and hooks your brain by stimulating it with a shot of dopamine, the hormone that tells us that food and sex are pleasurable. It also increases activity in areas of the brain that are believed to be involved in cognitive functions, so a cigarette can make you feel sharper and more focused. As if that weren’t enough, nicotine also increases the endorphin levels, the proteins that give you feelings of euphoria. Needless to say that having a ‘tool’ that can make you feel better in these ways, is something you don’t give it up easily. Quitting may leave you feeling deprived, and you may exhibit serious withdrawal symptoms if you have to go without nicotine.

Another important factor for this specific kind of addiction is habits – the patterns that are involved in smoking. Smoking behavior usually becomes closely linked with daily activities and ‘cues’ such as: after a meal, when socializing with friends, to ‘take a break’, when under stress (to relax), when relaxing (to relax further), etc. These aspects of smoking can be just as challenging to overcome as the physical dependence.

Consequently, most people who want to quit smoking once and for all, require an approach that deals with both vulnerabilities: the addiction itself and the behavioral aspects of it. The current ‘traps’ have to be identified and after that, new patterns and routines to be developed that make it easier to ‘skip’ the impulse to look for a cigarette. Hypnotherapy can support in this aspect by allowing our mind to adapt to the new behavior, but it can’t do wonders without the patient’s strong dedication  to getting rid of their smoking addiction. The first few weeks without cigarettes are usually the hardest. After 8-12 weeks, most individuals who make it that far start to feel more comfortable without smoking. Still, only 3 in 10 people can successfully stop smoking once and for all.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

May 03

Brain doping / drug abuseIt’s very simple now to order drugs over the Internet, and most pharmacies in Asia will sell medicines over the counter that are only available by prescription in the West. Most popular products in the online catalogs are amphetamines, potency pills and antidepressants. But self-medication is actually risky, particularly with amphetamines (such as Ritaline / methylphenidate),  which can enhance performance and concentration leading to dependency and requiring withdrawal treatment at specialized clinics or psychotherapists after months or years of abuse.

According to a study of U.S. pediatricians, the number of ‘doping’ students has increased by 75 percent over the last 8 years. Often the drugs are used incorrectly, like when the cause of poor concentration or erection problems lies somewhere else than where the drug attaches. Erectile dysfunction in men aged less than 55 years, for instance, mostly has purely psychological causes. Habitual intake often leads to overdosing and increased susceptibility to disease-causing side effects. At some point, the user might in fact just treat the withdrawal syndrome (for erectile dysfunction this is often fear of having sex without first taking the drug) – they feel no significant effect of the drug anymore but can not discontinue its use and thus enter a vicious circle. Multiple dependencies, like the use of amphetamines during the day and then in the evening intake of alcohol and / or tranquilizers or sleeping pills, makes everything even more complicated and dangerous. Abuse of prescribed medications causes more accidental deaths in the United States than anything else except automobile crashes, which kill more than 30,000 Americans every year.

The first signs of psychological dependence on drugs can be feelings of insecurity or fear if no intake is possible, or if there is an increase of the dose over time, but the effect of the drug doesn’t feel the same or is completely absent. Another alarm signal could be if over the years, more and more substances are taken in without consulting a medical doctor (this also includes food substitution drugs, injections of hormones, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, nose drops, etc.).

In most cases, drug dependence is admitted very late, after diseases of the organs have developed or accidents occured (often caused by a lack of concentration). For the psychological withdrawal, a combination of psychotherapy and support groups is very effective, but a medical checkup for possible physical damage is also essential.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

06.01.16