Our bodies rely on an intricate balance of hormones to regulate everything from muscle building to sleep patterns. When hormone production changes in the body, it can cause a host of problems. Some times these changes are caused by the body’s natural aging process, and other times they are linked to illness or disease.
Women experience major reproductive hormonal changes as they enter puberty and their reproductive years; and then again as the body ages and fertility declines, the hormone balance changes again, leaving menopause in its wake. Men are not immune to these reproductive changes, although in the declining years of fertility, the symptoms, in comparison with menopause, seem mild.
One of the hormone levels that decrease with age is testosterone. Testosterone plays an important role in both men and women’s physiology: in sex drive and function, muscle mass, fertility, mental well being, bone density, and red blood cell levels.
A recent study paid for by National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, cites evidence that age plays a less important role in the decline of testosterone in men than was previously thought.
The study took 1500 men, between the ages of 35 and 80, and measured their testosterone levels 5 years apart. The results were surprising. The average decrease in levels was only 1% over that five-year span, regardless of age. However, the decrease in the sub pool of men who had experienced depression, become obese, or had stopped smoking within that five year period was much greater. Men who are single also have a larger drop than men who are married. (The authors of the study stressed that the health benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh the testosterone level changes.)
One of the study’s founders, Dr. Gary Wittert, Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, said the following:
"It is critical that doctors understand that declining testosterone levels are not a natural part of aging and that they are most likely due to health-related behaviors or health status itself.”
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