Once they hit middle age, men can experience a phenomenon comparable to menopause. This is referred to as andropause.
Bodily changes accompanied by shifts in attitudes or moods occur between the ages of 40 and 55. A man frequently begins to question his values, accomplishments, and the direction of his life. You might think this is just a mid-life crisis, a temporary phase when men become anxious about their mortality, buy expensive sports cars, and have affairs with younger women.
In reality, most andropausal men do experience a decline in sexual desire or libido, reduced sexual potency, or difficulty developing or maintaining erections. They may also suffer more ejaculatory problems, reduced fertility, increased urinary frequency (especially at night), and other urination difficulties. These changes may be due, at least in part, to lower levels of testosterone and DHEA, the male sex hormones.
Testosterone, the principal androgen, regulates sexual function in men. It must be freely available to brain cell receptor sites in order to promote libido, sexual satisfaction, and performance. Unfortunately, as men age, testosterone becomes more and more bound to a carrier protein called serum globulin-even though the actual level of testosterone production does not generally decrease with aging. The result is that testosterone is no longer available to the sex-stimulating centers in the brain.
The solution isn't as simple as taking more testosterone or DHEA, which the body converts to testosterone. This is because supplemental testosterone, through the action of liver enzymes, also becomes bound to its carrier protein and is unavailable to receptor sites. How can this bound testosterone be freed and the expected vigor of male youth restored?
Diet and Lifestyle Solutions
To enhance your sexual energy, consider such methods as:
• Deep breathing exercises
• Regular moderate aerobic exercise
Avoid severe stress, excessively vigorous exercise, or the overuse of hot tubs and saunas, all of which can lower production of hormones involved in potency, fertility and sex drive. Eliminating these stressors can make a significant difference for some men.
Nutritional support is another cornerstone of sexual health. I recommend a balanced diet low in:
• Animal fats
• Fried foods
• White flour products
• Junk foods
Potency, fertility, and sex life are also affected by the presence of drugs, estrogen-like chemicals, antibiotics, and other pollutants in the environment. That's why it's critical to avoid the chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotic residue commonly found in animal products (other than organic ones) and processed foods. Your healthiest choice is a whole-food diet with plenty of organic fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are particularly important for sexual health because the body uses them to make hormones called prostaglandins, which are necessary for normal sexual response.
• Eat cold-water fish for their omega-3 EFAs.
• In your daily diet, include unrefined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils such as hempseed, flaxseed, walnut, or pumpkin seed oil.
• Eat your oats. Rich in vitamin E, oats release testosterone from its binding protein, making it more available to cells that require this hormone. This leads to enhanced libido, improved stamina, and a generally stronger nervous system.
• Avoid alcohol and high-caffeine products such as coffee, tea, and cola drinks. They deplete the body of zinc, manganese, magnesium, and other nutrients. It's wise to bypass foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. They boost estrogen levels, destabilize blood sugar levels, and devour nutrients such as chromium and B-complex vitamins.
Reversing Andropause with Herbs
If it's too difficult to change your lifestyle as recommended, think of supplementation. One or more of the following remedies may be all that's needed to reverse the symptoms of andropause.
In order of most to least effective:
• Stinging nettle root (standardized tincture, 1-2 tsps/5-10 mL; or capsules, 500 mg twice daily) can reduce the testosterone protein-binding process almost tenfold, making more free testosterone available to brain and other receptors.
• Avena sativa (same dosage as above) is an extract from wild oatstraw, which can also help release bound testosterone.
• L-arginine is an essential amino acid that can be very effective for erectile dysfunction, producing harder and longer-lasting erections and increasing libido. Arginine supplements promote natural body production of nitric oxide, a substance that opens up penile arteries much like the drug Viagra. But unlike Viagra, arginine is safe, relatively inexpensive, and has never caused any deaths. The suggested dose is 6-12 grams one hour before an anticipated sexual encounter or in divided doses three or four times daily.
• Muira puama originates in the Amazon rain forests of South America. This plant has shown significant libido-enhancing effects and has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac. People typically use 1-2 mL of the extract in water two to three times daily, or take two 500 mg capsules. Muira puama fortifies the system over a period of months, but some men report increased vitality within two weeks. It has no known toxicity at any dose and is well-tolerated by generally healthy men.
• Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a newly rediscovered Peruvian herb root that can significantly improve erectile tissue response. Apparently, it normalizes the levels of steroid hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen to those seen in young adults, thus bolstering libido. Men typically use 1,500 to 6,000 mg or more per day in three divided doses. A teaspoon of root powder, containing 2,800 mg of maca root, is used in 8 oz (227 mL) of water three times daily.
• Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a very popular herb known for its ability to reverse an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH). About 60% of all men over age 50 suffer from varying degrees of prostate enlargement, which can interfere with normal sexual function. Saw palmetto can be instrumental in reversing this situation. It works by preventing testosterone from converting to dihydrotestosterone, the form of testosterone thought to stimulate prostate enlargement. The recommended daily dose is 1-2 grams of whole berries or 320 mg of a standardized extract.
Other natural andropausal remedies are zinc, vitamin C, niacin, ginkgo biloba extract, panax ginseng, gokhru fruit (Tribulus terrestris), damiana leaf, gotu cola, and velvet elk antler.
To read more about andropause, see my book Boosting Male Libido Naturally (Alive Books, 2000), available in health food stores.
Dr. Zoltan Rona