Have you ever wondered what chemical, biological and physical factors influence men’s health and well-being? If you have, then look no further. This article is one-half of a two-part series that addresses these three aspects and their effects on the male anatomy.
In this first article, we shall discuss the biochemical features of men’s health. There are two main types of biochemicals available in the human body; hormones and enzymes. While most of us associate hormones with adolescents in their late teens and women, it’s obvious that men have hormones, and they play a huge role in anatomical development. Enzymes catalyse most biochemical reactions in the body, and thus it is important to study their effects on men’s fitness and health. The final portion of this post discusses menopause in men, its myths & misconceptions, common symptoms and treatment. So, let’s dive in:
The Endocrine System and Men’s health
The endocrine system is the vast network of glands responsible for the production of hormones. Hormones command various body activities such as sleep, mood, metabolism, digestion, sex & reproduction and tissue function among others. Outlined below are some hormones along with their functions, and you can use this as a guideline to ensure your endocrine system functions properly?
Sex and Reproduction
Three hormones are responsible for the processes of health and reproduction: testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). LH stimulates the production of testosterone while FSH produces sperm.
Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, responsible for growth of reproductive tissues and development of secondary sexual characteristics in men (Snyder, et al, 1999). It is also responsible for sexual arousal and libido.
So, the next time you can’t get it up, know that testosterone is the real culprit. To improve your testosterone levels, work out regularly since fat converts testosterone to estrogen.
Thyroxine hormone helps the body convert calories to energy. It does this by boosting the processing of sugars and cellular oxygen intake (Aakvaag, et al, 1978).
Short thyroxine supply (hypothyroidism) manifests itself as weight gain, fatigue, and muscle cramps.
Hyperthyroidism is the excessive production of thyroxine and its symptoms include raised heart rate, swollen thyroid, flushed eyes, and anxiety.
We suggest seeing a skilled functional medicine practitioner to run comprehensive thyroid labs and address thyroid dysfunction.
Your body’s circadian rhythm (A.K.A the body clock) responds to the hormone melatonin. Once the hormone kicks in, it makes adjustments to your body that inhibit wakefulness.
Disruption of the circadian rhythm is suspected to cause cancer, diabetes, and obesity (Tan, et al, 2003). This disruption normally arises when melatonin levels go down, usually due to the presence of bright night lights.
You are therefore advised to limit exposure to light at night, as this can help improve melatonin status. Other helpful tips you try include:
- Get red bulbs (they avoid the blue specter that inhibits melatonin) and use them after sunset
- Avoid electronic use for 2 hours before bed
- Get an app (f.lux) for the computer to filter out blue specter
- Get amber glasses (Uvex brand on Amazon or blue blockers) for filtering out blue spectrum
- Get LED candles and use them instead of regular lights at night
- Meditate in your dark room before bed and then get into bed after without turning on any lights.
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Cortisol is the main hormone in charge of our bodies’ stress response. When exposed to danger, the hypothalamus signals the body to produce cortisol, which increases the heart rate and increases oxygen supply to the brain (Weitzman, et al, 1973). It also signals for the release of fat and glucose into the blood to raise energy levels.
High levels of cortisol triggered by too much stress result in a disrupted metabolic system, creating fat storage in the cells. Thus, too much cortisol in the body results in weight gain, which only increases your body’s response to stress, thus starting a downward spiral.
Regular workouts keep cortisol levels in check. Avoiding foods laced with the pesticide atrazine also goes a long way in regulating the stress hormone.
Now that we have explored this class of biochemicals, let us move on to the next, shall we?
Conditions associated with male hormones
Men rarely seek treatment regarding their hormonal health. There is, however, the need to address the man’s hormonal health as it plays a giant role in the success of their careers and relationships. Man’s erectile dysfunction, for example, could lead to a difficulty in controlling hormonal and menstrual cycles for the woman. The following is a list of hormonal health issues likely to affect men.
- Low libido
- Erectile dysfunctions
- Premature ejaculation
- Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)
Sources of Hormonal Imbalance in Men
Most hormonal imbalance conditions result from a combination of behavioral and biological factors. They are outlined below.
- Relationship tension
- Low self-Confidence
- Reduced Dopamine levels
- Low Acetylcholine levels
- Dwindling levels of intimacy between couples
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)
- Dihydrotestosterone levels with respect to catabolism.
- Autoimmune components may result in prostatitis.
Therefore, root causes of hormone imbalance include: up-regulation of aromatase, environmental toxins, inflammation, viruses, sexually transmitted infections, pharmaceutical drugs, stress and other lifestyle factors. Some causes of hormonal imbalance arise from mind-body health status. These include; relationship issues, abuse, reproductive health and disconnection from nature.
Enzymes and Men’s Health
An enzyme is, by definition, a biochemical substance that speeds up a chemical reaction by providing an alternative pathway that requires a lower activation energy. Since all processes in our body are chemical reactions, enzymes act to make these reactions more efficient, yet don’t get used up themselves. These processes include food digestion, chemical energy transformation and the construction of large molecules from small precursors (Jacques, et al, 2006). Thus, a deficiency in enzymes may lead to gastrointestinal tract complications and other disorders such as albinism and phenylketonuria.
One enzyme that is of particular interest to men’s health is aromatase. It is responsible for converting androgens (testosterone) to estrogen. This catalytic conversion often results in the formation of estradiol, one of the most potent forms of estrogen produced in the body (Cohen, 2001).
While the body needs estrogen for such aspects as healthy bones, an imbalanced testosterone-estrogen ratio has severe effects on men’s health. These include gynecomastia (enlarged breasts), Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), sexual dysfunction, fatigue, depression & anxiety, weight gain, prostate issues and type 2 diabetes.
Losing weight is one of the greatest remedies for these symptoms. This is because studies have linked excessive body fat to excess estrogen (Jorma, et al, 1996). Using cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale also reduces excess estrogen as these foods contain the compound indole-3-carbinol which converts estradiol into less potent forms of estrogen. Limiting the use of plastic products also helps, as phthalates-the compounds that make plastics flexible- mimic estrogen in the body.
The next section discusses something no man would wish to talk about…
While the jury is still out on whether or not men go through a well-defined menopause, experts have noted males that exhibit the same signs females report during perimenopause and menopause (Featherstone, et al, 1998). Also known as ‘andropause’, male menopause is characterized by a steady decline in testosterone with age.
Individuals that undergo andropause experience sexual, psychological and physical problems. Symptoms include: a decline in motivation, reduced self-confidence, low concentration spans, fatigue, increased body fat, gynecomastia, low bone density, erectile dysfunction, infertility and low libido. These symptoms are collectively referred to as late-onset hypogonadism, testosterone deficiency or androgen deficiency.
There are easily available natural aromatase inhibitors that can be found in healthful foods:
- White Button Mushrooms
- Resveratrol- a compound found in grapes, blueberries, cocoa)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage)
- Seeds (sesame, pomegranate)
If your doctor discovers you have low testosterone levels, they may prescribe testosterone replacement therapy. This may relieve symptoms associated with sexual dysfunction, depression, and fatigue (Siegel, 2007). Androgen replacement therapy, however, has some potential side effects, including the risk of developing prostate cancer. Instead, physicians will try out various other options including diet change, fitness programs, and medical interventions before attempting hormone replacement.
You can also try the following supplements, nutrition, and lifestyle factors for boosting testosterone levels:
- Deer Antler
- Horny Goat Weed
- Resistance / Weight Training (or High-Intensity Interval Training)
- Good Quality and Ample Quantity of Healthy Fats
- Increased Sexual Activity (with a partner is best for T levels)
So, why not whip up some kale, or decide on a fitness program, a health makeover, can make a difference. And while you’re at it, check out the next article on this series, as we’ll be discussing men’s health, fitness and prostate issues.
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- Snyder, Peter J., et al. "Effect of Testosterone Treatment on Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Men Over 65 Years of Age 1." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism8 (1999): 2647-2653.
- Aakvaag, A., et al. "Hormonal changes in serum in young men during prolonged physical strain." European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology4 (1978): 283-291.
- Tan, Dun‐Xian, et al. "Melatonin: a hormone, a tissue factor, an autocoid, a paracoid, and an antioxidant vitamin." Journal of pineal research1 (2003): 75-78.
- Weitzman, Elliot D., et al. "Twenty-four hour pattern of the episodic secretion of cortisol in normal subjects." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism1 (1971): 14-22.
- Buvat, Jacques, et al. "Hormones, metabolism, aging and men’s health." Standard practice in sexual medicine(2006): 225-286.
- Cohen, P. G. "Aromatase, adiposity, aging and disease. The hypogonadal-metabolic-atherogenic-disease and aging connection." Medical hypotheses6 (2001): 702-708.
- Toppari, Jorma, et al. "Male reproductive health and environmental xenoestrogens." Environmental health perspectivesSuppl 4 (1996): 741.
- Gould, Duncan C., Richard Petty, and Howard S. Jacobs. "For and against: The male menopause--does it exist? /Against." British Medical Journal7238 (2000): 858.
- Hepworth, Mike, and Mike Featherstone. "The male menopause." The body in everyday life(1998): 276-301.
- Watkins, Elizabeth Siegel. "The medicalization of male menopause in America." Social History of Medicine2 (2007): 369-388.