Big article in The Atlantic magazine this week http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/should-the-modern-man-be-taking-testosterone/274663/pretty much slamming the purveyors of supplemental testosterone gel as god’s gift to men. And although it can safely be said that testosterone is in fact god’s gift since without it men would not be men, there is value in raising the use vs. abuse issue when it comes to hormone replacement.
The Atlantic article raises some important points: does every modern man really need testosterone? Are the drug companies having a field day warning men over 40 of their impending decline, and are we about to see a repeat in men of the bad news about HRT that raised risks for heart disease, blood clots, stroke and cancer in women?
There is no doubt that all hormones decline with age: in women it is progesterone, then estrogen that start to fluctuate then lower; in men testosterone is the first hormone to go along with DHEA, the most abundant hormone in the body, and the precursor of testosterone. Declining hormones go with the territory of normal aging – the question is how rapid is the decline, how precipitous the drop? Lifestyle, stress levels, nutrition, weight gain, exercise, alcohol intake, etc. are all crucial to the rate of decline. Experts in the field of hormone testing and balance, like Dr. David Zava, Ph.D., owner of ZRT Laboratory (www.zrtlab.com) will tell you that supplementing with testosterone can be beneficial where the need is clearly established and monitored through testing, but rubbing in a bunch of androgel or any other form of testosterone in a tube won’t do much good if overeating/drinking, lack of exercise, smoking, high stress levels and inadequate sleep are a way of life. At the risk of repeating myself in every blog post, it really is about balance.
There’s no question that testosterone is the hormone that puts the macho in male: that virility, hairiness, heavier bone and muscle mass, deeper voice and aggressive competitive drive we associate with the male of the species. And there is little doubt that when muscles morph into body fat and sexual fizz fizzles out men may worry that they are becoming less than human. But the red convertible, younger gal pal and Viagra won’t bring back the man they were if an unhealthy lifestyle and hidden hormone imbalance go unaddressed. Fact is, Low-T or any measurable deficiency of testosterone generally goes along with deficient DHEA and undetected imbalances of related hormones. For example men (and women) who are overweight or obese usually have high estrogen levels in relation to testosterone, DHEA or other hormones. That’s because fat cells are actually mini-estrogen-making factories, churning it out via the action of an enzyme called aromatase…and guess which hormone aromatase steals to make that conversion? Testosterone! That may come as a shock to the average man but vital need to know information since estrogen is a growth hormone linked with enlargement of the prostate. Having a spare tire and “moobs” (aka ‘man boobs’ or fatty tissue in the breasts) is a man’s first clue that his available testosterone is being snatched up and turned into estrogen….no wonder he is more emotional, moody, gaining weight and losing his drive. Topping up with T in this case can be very beneficial for men if and when they use it in the right amounts and in tandem with:
-an improved diet rich in high-quality protein, high fiber and dark green vegetables vs. highly refined carbohydrate foods and sugar
– a superior multivitamin that contains adequate levels of all the multis, EFAs essential fatty acids, the complete Bcomplex, and key minerals like zinc (inhibits aromatase conversion of testosterone to estrogen in fat cells), selenium (helps convert thryoxine T4 to active active thyroid hormone T3), magnesium (calms nerves and improves sleep) and other essential trace minerals
– strength training or weight bearing exercise 2-3 days a week to boost lean muscle mass, metabolism and natural testosterone and DHEA production
– adequate sleep which experts say is 7-8 hours minimum to ensure cell repair and to normalize stress and appetite hormone levels
-stress reduction – crucial since high cortisol stress hormone levels exponentially deplete T levels.
Last but not least topping up with T should be on an “as needed basis” after testing has established a deficiency, and then monitored. DHEA the precursor of testosterone is often a good place to start along with strength training. If you need to supplement, be sure to ask your provider for bioidentical hormones, those derived from plant substances and made to duplicate the hormones the body produces naturally. Note also that topical supplements rubbed into the skin (gels, creams) do not always show up in a serum test, and that can lead to possible OVERsupplementation, so many providers and experts in the field use saliva or dried blood spot sampling to track and adjust dosage as needed.
Do keep in mind that testosterone and Low T is not just a guy thing – women too need adequate T to maintain sexual function, strengthen bones and muscles, boost mental clarity and libido, though women’s bodies make a lot less…. Sidenote: how interesting that nearly half of women in the workforce these days make as much money or more than their male counterparts on just one-tenth the amount of testosterone…. but I digress.
I encourage you to read the article (link is at the top), and take it with a grain of salt and the awareness having read this blog, that hormone balance, health and optimal aging never boils down to just one hormone! Its about all of the key players – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, thyroid – working together, in sync and in harmony! Just like the symphony orchestra, if one instrument is out of tune, so goes the melody…hormones are your internal symphony. Replacement has its place as long as it is in tune with your body’s natural rhythms and need for proper care, feeding and rest!