Hormonal imbalance is often thought of as a condition that primarily affects women, but that is far from the case. It is in fact a common cause of many different problems in men, especially those over 40, although it can be triggered at any age. Some of us may have lived all of our lives with a hormonal imbalance and were unaware of it.
The causes of hormonal imbalance include stress, poor diet and lack of exercise, injury and illness. It is linked with diabetes and obesity, in that hormonal imbalance can be both a cause and effect of these conditions. It can also just happen for unknown reasons as we get older and our body chemistry changes. The use of steroids, radiation therapy or exposure to pollutants and pesticides may also affect our hormone levels.
Symptoms to look out for
Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance in men can include tiredness, depression, poor cognitive functioning, anxiety and decreased sexual desire and performance. Fatty weight gain, especially around the abdomen and breasts, is another symptom, along with a difficulty in maintaining muscle mass. Hormonal imbalance can also lead to heart disease and osteoporosis (brittle bones).
While these symptoms may be signs that your hormones are out of balance, the only way to be sure is through a professional hormone level test. A blood, saliva or urine test can check whether your hormones are at normal levels, and if not then there are several options you can take to restore balance, depending on your specific problem.
The most common form of hormone imbalance in older men is low testosterone. This is related to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, depression and premature aging. Restoring testosterone in middle-aged men to more youthful levels can reduce cholesterol, fat and the risk of inflammation, while improving stamina, sexual drive and erectile function.
The exact causes of low testosterone in men are unknown, but may include increased body fat, tissue damage, and a poor diet. Low testosterone and high cholesterol often go hand in hand, as cholesterol produces the DHEA hormone that yields testosterone in men. So, when the body is low on available testosterone it produces more cholesterol, although this doesn’t always solve the problem.
Balance of testosterone and estrogen
Ideally, men should have a balance of testosterone and estrogen, so too much or too little estrogen can be as much a problem as a shortage of testosterone. The aromatase enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen and this can potentially get out of hand. Your body also needs enough of the right sort of testosterone. About 60% of the testosterone in the body is bound to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) so tightly that it is of no practical use. 38% is less tightly bound, to albumin, while just 2% is “free”.
As men age more SHBG is produced and more SHBG means less functional testosterone. One of the functions of the liver is to remove excess estrogen and SHBG, which means that an impaired liver can also contribute to hormonal imbalance. Meanwhile, obesity suppresses the action of the luteinizing hormone in the testes and reduces testosterone levels. Low testosterone leads to increased belly fat which leads to low testosterone in a vicious circle.
Solutions to low testosterone
Testosterone replacement therapy is available in the form of creams, gels, implants, skin patches, pills and injections. It should only be used after comprehensive testing and medical advice however. Natural supplements can also boost testosterone production, including zinc, selenium, vitamins A and E and puncture vine. Fish oil, nettle root, a high protein diet and moderate amounts of red wine can keep aromatase and SHBG production in check.
Other forms of hormonal imbalance
Hormones are chemicals produced by the glands in the endocrine system that deliver information via the bloodstream, regulating bodily functions including heart rate, sexual function, sleep cycles, body temperature, mood, stress levels and metabolic functions. Besides low testosterone, other forms of hormonal imbalance can be caused by an under or over-active thyroid, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of cortisol), adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol), Addison’s disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone), iodine deficiency, and an imbalance in growth hormones, insulin, steroids or adrenalin.
If you think you may be suffering from the symptoms of hormonal imbalance the best thing to do is to get a professional check-up. Treatments are readily available that may make a dramatic improvement to your life, as well as reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening illness or conditions.