Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Georgia.

“We’ve always been kitchen-klatch people,” says 54-year-old Daniel Kenney about himself and his four older siblings, the eldest of whom is 64.

“The kitchen is where we have the best conversations as grownups, just my brothers, our respective partners sans kids, nieces or nephews. Our monthly get-togethers typically involve a huge potluck, which means lots of dirty pots and pans, followed by a marathon, all-hands-on-deck cleanup session. That’s when we end up dissecting all kinds of topics we’d never touch on at the dinner table. I enjoy these family debates – except for the one last spring that ended on a curious note.”

Kenney had just been to see his new general practitioner who surprised him by asking, “Have you ever had a bone density test?” Something his previous physician had never mentioned. Then his doctor asked him questions for which he had no reply: “How much do you know about andropause, the term for male menopause? Any flashes, mood swings, forgetfulness? Loss of muscle mass? Fatigue? How’s your libido?”

“HIS gp asked, ‘How much do you know about andropause, the term for male menopause?'”

And those are the very questions Kenney repeated (“verbatim, unfortunately”) to his two of his older brothers as they tackled the dishes. “Male menopause?” exclaimed his second-oldest brother, who suddenly remembered he had an urgent errand to attend to in the basement.

“And my other brother? ‘Why, that’s a women’s thing,’ he practically sputtered, and then promptly fired up the noisy old dishwasher, putting an end to the discussion.” Kenney’s two older brothers were clearly uncomfortable with the topic of male menopause. “I didn’t even get close to mentioning low testosterone,” says Kenney.

His two sisters-in-law? “They just smiled at me knowingly. My sister-in-law Carol deadpanned, “Male menopause? Let’s just say that life with your older brother some days is like watching Grumpy Old Men over and over and over.’”

That Kenney family episode underscores a few myths about menopause: That it’s a women’s-only condition (it’s not) and that menopause is largely a phase involving mood swings and night sweats (definitely not). The stifled conversation in the Kenney kitchen also confirmed something else. Physician-patient discussions about menopause seem, for the most part, to be reserved for women.

Talk to your doctor

Toronto-based physician Dr. Shafiq Qaadri covers all of these topics in his book, The Testosterone Factor: A Practical Guide to Improving Vitality and Virility, Naturally. “Andropause, low testosterone levels, can have serious impacts on aging men – apart from mood swings and sweats,” he says.

Dr. Lawrence Komer, an Ontario physician who has also spoken widely on men’s health issues, describes andropause (sometimes jokingly referred to as “manopause”) as “a normal part of aging, although, for some men it is accompanied by a gradual and undesired decline in their sexuality, mood and overall energy. Sometimes it can even expose men to more serious health risks.”

Older men may also be subject the mood swings and irritability that comes with menopause, due to a decline in testosterone. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Mic445.

Signs and symptoms of andropause

As Dr. Komer explains, men between the the ages of 40 and 80 and older can experience a clinical syndrome similar to the female menopause – but for men there isn’t a clear-cut signpost to mark this transition as there is for women.

“Andropause, just like menopause, is characterized by a drop in hormone levels,” he says. “The bodily changes, as a result of reduced hormones, occur very gradually in men and may be accompanied by adverse changes in attitudes and moods, ongoing fatigue, a loss of vitality, and decreased sex drive. Added to this, there is usually a decline in physical agility and ability. What’s more, medical studies show that this decline in testosterone can actually contribute to the risks for other health problems like heart disease and weak bones.”

The symptoms of andropause, in part because they’re so diverse, make it difficult to diagnose. (“Some men find it difficult to admit that there’s even a problem” reports Dr. Komer.)

Symptoms of andropause can vary from patient to patient. The Canadian Health Network lists the following possible indicators:

  • mood changes (irritability, depression)
  • reduced libido
  • low energy
  • fatigue
  • decreased muscle mass
  • diminished strength
  • muscle aches
  • hot flushes
  • difficulty concentrating
  • erectile dysfunctions
  • osteoporotic fractures
  • height loss

Not all of these point to andropause. Some, of course, are simply associated with getting older, acknowledges Qaadri, and can also be indicators of other illnesses and conditions.

What treatments are available?

Determining the cause of a man’s low testosterone levels is key, say the experts. Testosterone supplementation and testosterone replacement therapy are common treatments.

However, as Dr. Phil Bach, a former Edmonton urologist who is now a Fellow in Male Reproductive Medicine and Microsurgery at the Weill Cornell Medicine school in New York, wrote in a report for the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation: “Since many men with hypogonadism [another clinical name for andropause] also suffer from chronic diseases related to metabolic syndrome, lifestyle modifications to reduce obesity, improve blood pressure and improve blood glucose levels have all been shown to improve testosterone levels in men.” In short: increased exercise, which reduces stress, and healthy eating.

Lifestyle changes including exercise and healthy eating can help ease the symptoms of andropause. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, www.wetravel.com

But, like all health concerns, it must all start with a candid talk with your physician.

As for Kenney, he’s glad his new doctor initiated the discussion about andropause, and he’s doubly glad that he pestered his siblings: “As a result of my kitchen-sink attempt to talk about andropause, my second-eldest brother will soon be undergoing testosterone replacement therapy as a result of tests. So, yes, menopause is a guy’s thing, too.”

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Doug O'Neill
O’Neill, formerly Executive Editor of Canadian Living, writes on all manner of topics for a variety of Canadian publications – but has a preference for storytelling that gets to the heart of things. “Writing about journeys has always fascinated me,'” says contributor Doug O’Neill, “whether I’m scribbling about my own travels around the world or about other people’s inspiring journeys as they navigate from one life stage to another.”