Male hormones testosterone

Originally published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza (link), November 2, 2010. George Bernard Shaw once said that “youth is wasted on the young.” One of the great ironies of life is how we stumble though youth with little clue as to what truly gives our life joy and meaning. The experiences we gain as we pass from young to not-so-young give us that knowledge ... but just as we start to sort things out, our bodies begin to let us down.

The biochemical pathways responsible for aging are poorly understood, and science is far from being able to reverse or even halt them. Still, many of the major symptoms the years bring can be decreased through hormone therapy and lifestyle changes. This article will focus on male hormones; a future article will address women's issues.

The primary sex hormone in men is testosterone (hereafter referred to as T for brevity). Blood levels of T begin dropping about 1 percent per year after age 30; this decrease, often called andropause, causes most of the physical symptoms of aging in men. These include depression or grumpiness; loss of energy and motivation; decreases in muscular strength, libido, or erectile function; an increase in upper and central body fat; and osteoporosis.

For the same reasons young athletes take large doses of T to boost their athletic performance, replacing age-related decreases in T can help restore our ability to enjoy the things we moved to Tahoe to do, like ski, hike, and mountain bike. Research also shows an important role for maintaining both muscle and bone mass in healthy aging.

Advances in blood testing have made it easy to check for low T, and supplementation through prescription creams and gels is very easy and safe. In spite of this, few men undergo testing and the topic is little discussed, probably because T is a sex hormone and men don't want to consider the possibility that they might not have as much as they used to.

There are a few simple steps you can take to maximize your T levels without any medical testing or treatment and I would recommend them for almost all men. They are:

1) Choose organic milk, meat and eggs. This reduces your exposure to livestock hormone residues.

2) Minimize use of plastics. The residues can disrupt normal hormone cycling. Drink out of glass or ceramic, use glass storage containers, and avoid foods packaged in plastic — fresh tastes better, anyway.

3) Avoid soy-based foods, which contain phytoestrogens and may decrease T. Read labels. This includes many packaged foods, which contain shelf-stable soy oil or soy protein.

4) Weight training once a week with heavy weights, especially squats or deadlifts, will give most men a boost in T levels, in addition to increasing muscle mass and bone density. Safe technique is essential. Paul Heffern at High Altitude Fitness is a former champion power lifter and excellent coach.

Taken together, these changes may make a small difference, and for many that is enough. They're also easy and healthy lifestyle changes. For those that need more, be aware that options exist for testing and treatment.

— Dr. Rebecca Gelber, is an Incline Village resident and graduate of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is an adjunct professor with the UNR School of Medicine and practices locally at Tahoe Aesthetic and Integrative Medicine, 775-298-1750,