As we age, we notice symptoms popping up every few months. With women, it’s called menopause and includes many, many symptoms such as fatigue, forgetfulness, hot flashes, vaginal discomfort and atrophy, decreased libido, irritability and insomnia. Menopause can be surgically induced, as when you get a total hysterectomy. There is no shortage of menopause humor out there that attempts to make light of the upsetting and uncomfortable symptoms most of us experience at some point during this stage of our lives. Sayings like, “I’m still hot, it just comes in flashes.” And images of the seven dwarves renamed Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful, and Psycho.
With men, it’s termed andropause and the symptoms include reduced fatigue, sex drive, weak erections, depression, loss of strength and muscle mass, weight gain as well as occasional night sweats akin to a woman’s hot flash. Sadly, male menopause or “andropause” is not given as much attention as it should be. Guys, I will be noodling ways for you to overcome these problems with natural remedies and I will write about it in a future column.
For now, I’d like to give andropause a tad more attention because you might recognize yourself here and I want you to stay tuned in. The first symptom is usually just fatigue and then apathy (lack of enthusiasm for life’s normal joys like food or sex). You might find that you’re less competitive than normal. This is usually from high cortisol and alterations in DHEA (which happens to women as well during menopause). By the way, elevated DHEA may cause you to experience BPH (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy) as well as hair loss. And another result of the imbalance causes intense sugar cravings, feeling tired, but wired, more insomnia and unattractive belly fat. This could be from too much stress, and not enough rest to go with the natural decline in hormones. I will talk about this part later in my article.
Today, I’d like to offer a few tips that could help you, as a couple, age more comfortably together, and minimize the problems that drive people to doctors, or worse, to psychiatrists who numb you with mind-bending drugs. Yes, your mood and cognition are impacted whether you are male or female. Before I get to the natural remedies and dietary tips, here’s a reminder about why it is happening to you. For women, the levels of estrogen go down. And for men, the levels of testosterone go down. These are your sex hormones. The levels of these fluctuate throughout your life, and in fact can decline rapidly if you are under a lot of stress. For example, this might explain why your libido crashed for months (maybe years) after a painful divorce or devastating health crisis or loss of a loved one.
In the news recently, there have been some interesting findings reported from brand new studies. The first that comes to mind is about post-menopausal women and how they have an elevated risk for heart failure or coronary heart disease if they have higher testosterone levels compared to estradiol (an estrogen hormone).
What about your brain and mood?
For sure, psychological symptoms are one of the first (and worst) things noticed by men and women during menopause and andropause. You might think you’re going crazy, and so might those around you. It differs for everyone, and new research suggests that if you’ve been struggling with mental health issues prior to menopause/andropause, they are bound to get worse. In particular, symptoms such as panic attacks and suicidal ideation seem to heighten, and it’s much harder to deal with than typical annoyances such as depression, irritability, mood swings, insomnia and memory loss.
The CDC found that the rate of women committing suicide has been on the rise since the year 2000; it’s up by 50 percent and the average age is between 45 and 64. I have to wonder how many of these cases were brought to the brink from the use of mind-bending anxiolytics or antidepressants that are thought to impair otherwise good judgment and possibly raise the risk of suicide.
It makes me think of the fashionista Kate Spade and the TV chef, Anthony Bourdain… both of them were on similar psychiatric drugs and both committed suicide. There have been others, but this column is intended to be bright and helpful, not sad and scary, so I will help you now with potential remedies so you don’t have to fall into the arms of psyche drugs and sleeping pills.
Once you start those meds, it’s almost impossible to get off them and in fact, I don’t recommend that you get off without professional help. The dependence impacts your receptors and causes them to be damaged (and downregulated) for years, so you need a specialist in addiction to help you get off safely and wean properly.
The PAWS can last years, as in Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms. Most doctors will tell you I’m wrong and there’s no such thing as PAWS, but I’ve worked in Rehabilitation Centers and Addiction Recovery Centers, and I am in touch with physicians that do understand PAWS. It is a real thing. The doctors that say you can come off your psyche drug and be well and strong within a month are dead wrong.
I’m not saying medication is bad, I am still a licensed pharmacist and I’m aware there’s a place for medications, especially during the transition phase. Sometimes you see bio-identical estrogen, sleep meds and antidepressants used for a period of a few weeks and it helps a lot, but to be on them for years is not a good idea due to cumulative side effects and drug mugging.
It’s important for you to talk with an intelligent, patient, doctor about your menopause or andropause symptoms, rather than being shy about it. It’s also a wonderful idea to talk to a nutritionist, acupuncturist, holistic MD or naturopath about changing your diet, adding herbal remedies or vitamins. Here are some ideas that I have for you in that regard:
Manage stressful situations.
Sometimes easier said than done. But if you can pinpoint a stressful situation, then avoid it, you will have done your hormones a favor. The rationale behind this, and the reason I’ve put it first on my list, is because stress causes you to make cortisol instead of estrogen and testosterone. So when you engage in stressful situations, relationships, or jobs it causes you to stop making estrogen and testosterone and begin making stress hormones. You’re trading in your sex hormones for stress hormones, which ultimately leads to less sex and more ulcers. If you stress out easily, don’t watch the news as much. Avoid people who drag you down and fire people who are mean and incompetent. Set boundaries. It’s all part of self-care because your health is at stake, so don’t feel bad about cutting cords that weaken you.
Avoid estrogenic chemicals.
This means avoid heavy pesticide-laden foods, the pesticides are sticky unnatural estrogens which throw off your hormone balance. Plastic water bottles also add a fake type of estrogen to your body, and it sticks to your cells. These cause free radical damage galore and have negative effects on the very pathways that produce your hormones. The more fake estrogenic compounds you put into your body from pesticides, certain makeup or soaps, foods and plastics, the more they bind to receptors on your cells… and that means there is less natural estrogen on those receptors. The fake ones kick the real ones off! This can cause cancer in the reproductive organs for both men and women.
Maintain a healthy sex life.
Intimacy is a natural part of a mutually loving relationship. There’s no real time when it should end if you love one another, unless there’s a medical condition that causes problems with function or arousal, or structure. See your physician about that. But the lull in your sex life doesn’t have to occur just because you’re going through the change. Sex is an excellent stress reliever too. The difficulty is that menopause sometimes causes a woman to experience vaginal dryness due to declining estrogen levels. This can be resolved easily with natural estrogens, or bio-identical creams and patches. It doesn’t happen to all women though, some women never deal with problems like this, so I think genetics might be involved here. Also your liver function and ability to break down estrogen properly.
Adrenal function is important and if your adrenals are healthy you’ll probably never even get a hot flash, that is the case with me luckily, so far 5 years post-menopausal and not a single hot flash or night sweat… not yet anyway. Keep your adrenals healthy, maintain low stress and it’s smooth sailing for you.
Andropause can also impact a man’s ability to have sex by causing him to experience erectile dysfunction. Again, this doesn’t have to happen, it’s just common. Viagra is a quick fix, but it’s not the long-term answer. These can occur early on, after a few years, or never at all, if you have healthy adrenal function (which kicks in after your reproductive organs have ‘gone to sleep’ so to speak).
Watch what you eat.
Man, do I hate to take your cheeseburgers and fries away but those drive-through foods and delivery pizza pies you get every day or two are not good for your sex drive. After a decade of eating that you will be very heavy, probably on a statin, and more than likely not interested in sex. If you are trying to offset the changes of menopause or andropause, eat clean, organic foods that are based on a caveman diet. That essentially means lean meat, salads, vegetables, fruits, and keep it easy on the grains. This provides you with a good source of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
No more soda pop, it’s better to have fresh lemon water, or natural fruit juice or clean dairy; no more fake milks either. The “fake” milks have like four almonds in them (I’m kind of being sarcastic), and a lot of other weird ingredients. Read the label to see what I mean. Same with soy milk, pea milk, coconut milk and other wanna-be milks.
Sip Green Tea.
Or matcha tea… the reason is that this tea contains catechins that have natural antioxidant protection, and fight free radicals. The healthier your DNA is, the lower your risk for cancer.
It not only gets your blood flowing, it gets your juices flowing which means a higher appetite for sex and a lower risk for obesity and heart disease. If you’re not able to do aerobics, then try low impact Zumba, ballroom dance, swimming, or something that clears your lymph like hot yoga. Routine exercise (to your own level) increases flexibility, as well as the release of endorphins like dopamine, serotonin and some endocannabinoids. These neurotransmitters fight depression that often accompanies andropause and menopause. Also, weight-bearing exercise is known to help ease the bone loss that occurs in the first 5 years after menopause and andropause. And finally, it helps you to continue to look hot and sexy after ‘the change’ which just happens to be when you are the most prone to gaining weight!
Actually, sleep at night.
Stop trying to do everything on your to-do list. Give your brain and reproductive organs a rest by going to bed at a regular hour, and actually trying to sleep. So many of my frenetic friends are in bed, but they’re working on a laptop, playing word games or snap-chatting on their mobile device, or watching YouTube and whatnot. It’s fine by me, but keep it to a minimum.
The trouble I think is that these things are bad habits and when you do it for 5 minutes, you want to do it for 10 minutes, and if you do this stuff for an hour, it could turn into 3 hours and before you know it, you’re up until 3 am watching idiotic stuff on Periscope and “Book face” as my mom calls it. The blue light on your device and the adrenal rush from Amazon shopping at midnight will keep you up night after night.
Get enough rest.
I miss the slower pace of the 80’s and 90’s. I’m 53 at the time of this writing. I do think I have good balance in my life, at least for the most part. But there are times when I notice I’m out of balance and need to slow down. It’s because I operate a digital business and I’m a health blogger with an international presence. Websites don’t close. Emails don’t stop. So at times I have to force myself to step away from the device, go outside and look at the mountains and just take a deep breath. Do you find yourself having to think about taking a deep, relaxing breath or slowing down?
Do you find that you’re constantly connected to your phone, texts or email? It’s that… and schedules.
Do you find that you don’t have even 10 minutes between your appointments or your children’s activities?
Try to find a minute or two every single hour to simply stretch your legs or arms out, and breathe deeply. This might help to release tension held in your muscles if you sit for a long time, or if you are running around (like an electrician or a mover). It also serves to reduce the production of stress hormones (if only for a few minutes) that actually deplete testosterone levels, making libido problems even worse than they are during menopause and andropause.
So taking a little break for yourself, or a massage is really just about self-care so you can continue to be there for your family. If you don’t take care of yourself, then your health status will eventually decline (because no one can keep your pace up forever!) and then you will be forced to rest. I’m suggesting that you decide to take some breaks right now before a problem occurs which forces it upon you. The rest serves another purpose. It allows your adrenal glands to stop making so much cortisol and other stress hormones, and go back to making sex hormones which are what you need to be doing during menopause and andropause.
Ashwagandha might help.
It’s not for everyone, but this natural herb is known as “Indian Ginseng” and has been used for over 3,000 years to help with stress, insomnia, anxiety as well as sexual problems. It is sort of like giving yourself an herbal rest! See above for my rant on resting. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen and it supports thyroid health by ramping up production of T4 (thyroxine). You will find it in some of the best thyroid supplements on the market.
Ashwagandha is also known as a fertility herb. You can take it as a tea, liquid extract, capsule or tablet.
It’s sold over the counter, at health food stores. It might be helpful if you have trouble with insomnia. I think this is a good remedy to read about yourself and talk to your physician about. It can be applied to the skin and is very calming to the system. It’s not for every woman, so make sure it’s right for testing your hormones by a qualified specialist who works with bio-identical hormones. By the way, progesterone is not the same as a progestin drug such as Prometrium or the Provera. Those are patented medications that require a prescription. Limit libido busters. The hormone that drives sex drive is testosterone. There are a few things that mug testosterone and they are caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and cortisol (stress). According to a recent Mayo study, caffeine consumption (think of coffee several times a day) seems to increase the likelihood of hot flashes (vasomotor symptoms) in women older than 70 years. Can you imagine being post-menopausal for a number of years and then suddenly getting hot flashes. Look at your diet and see if you’ve introduced caffeine anywhere.
Also, vitamin deficiencies will suppress testosterone. So limit these and just do the best you can. If you have any serious symptoms related to hormone imbalances, such as a lump, breakthrough bleeding, serious fatigue or pain then see a doctor right away.
Women who experienced surgical or induced menopause were likely to report hot flashes that lasted beyond age 60. Caffeine use appeared to increase the likelihood of hot flashes in women older than 70.
June is National Men’s Health Month, so let’s talk about hormone balance in men. Levels of testosterone begin to decline in your mid-40s. The decline in testosterone production will be more dramatic if you are overweight, under chronic stress, sedentary, or medicated. As described above, the most prominent symptoms are low libido, irritability, depression, reduced strength and muscle mass, and erectile dysfunction. Like women, you also see rapid bone loss (osteoporosis) as well as higher cholesterol and alterations in lipids and triglycerides.
Is hormone replacement safe?
In a 2015 study of 1,472 generally healthy men between the ages of 52 and 63 with no history of heart disease, researchers found that those who received testosterone supplementation to achieve normal levels did not increase their risk of heart attack, stroke, or death but showed a reduction of risk compared to patients not on testosterone therapy. Even more good news came in a 2016 follow-up study of 755 male patients between the ages of 58 and 78, all with severe coronary artery disease. Researchers found that the men who received testosterone therapy as part of their follow-up treatment fared much better than those who didn’t. In fact, the non-testosterone therapy patients were 80 percent more likely to suffer an adverse event.
It’s about balance.
Aging is inevitable and dropping hormone levels go with the territory, but what is not inevitable, is how rapid or steep the decline in hormones needs to be. Whether men age well, or rapidly, depends a great deal on their stress levels, diet, exercise, alcohol intake, weight gain etc. For example, the more overweight the man, the more estrogen he will churn out in his fat cells, creating a surplus in relation to waning testosterone, and a host of estrogen related symptoms, like moodiness, depression, and female pattern of weight distribution in the hips, thighs, and breast tissue. An important fact that should not be lost on those concerned about prostate health is that estrogen is a growth hormone linked with the development of prostate cancer. Experts in the field of hormone testing and balance will tell you that where the need is clearly established and monitored through testing, supplementing with testosterone can be beneficial, particularly when used in tandem with a healthy lifestyle.
Staying in balance is important.
Test your hormone levels to detect and correct imbalances that might be causing your symptoms.
Make sure you have a healthcare provider that is experienced with bio-identical hormone replacement as well as holistic options.
Lose weight if you need to. Fat cells hold on to “aromatase” which is a natural enzyme that in excess, robs a man of testosterone by converting it into estrogen to quickly. There are natural aromatase inhibitors such as chrysin, fenugreek and I3C.
Get on a good diet program. One solution to your weight problems is a low carb, lean protein and clean veggie diet, similar to Paleo.
Minimize caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake.
Try strength training or weight-bearing exercise which helps rejuvenate feelings of youthfulness and boost DHEA and testosterone.
Go to bed earlier.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.