Posts Tagged ‘Hormones’
What is a guy to do when he starts feeling his age? What if he’s less energetic, less playful, less romantically inclined than he used to be? Should he accept it all as an inevitable part of life or should he fight back?
If you watch television at all, you cannot miss the onslaught of ads directed at male baby boomers who wonder where all their mojo has gone. Could it be low testosterone, “low T,” as the abbreviation goes? If so, the advertisers assert that hormone therapy, or more specifically testosterone replacement therapy, can do the trick.
Sales of prescription hormones have more than doubled since 2008, reaching $1.6 billion last year, not including supplements purchased over the counter, according to IMS Health, Inc., a company that analyzes healthcare-related data.
Men are bombarded by these advertising campaigns, urging them to ask their doctor about low testosterone, says Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in an interview on the subject with WebMD. So they come complaining about feeling fatigued, weak, depressed and without sex drive, which are all common symptoms of a drop in testosterone.
Testosterone levels can be determined by a simple blood test. A normal testosterone range is between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood. Less than 300 is considered low T.
In Dr. Mezitis’ estimation, about a quarter to a third of the patients he tests have levels below normal. But in most cases, the symptoms have other causes. While lower levels are to be expected with aging, he says, lower than normal scores can have a number of different reasons, including diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
Testosterone is a hormone responsible for a man’s libido, sperm production, and also for muscle and bone strength. A gradual decline in testosterone usually begins after the age of 30. Other health problems in addition to natural aging may accelerate the process.
Treatment for low T. comes in multiple forms, including injections, patches, pellets, tablets and gels.
Ideally, the goal would be to keep testosterone at levels consistent with those of a 25-year-old male. But hoping for that kind of rejuvenation may be a stretch.
A new study found that older men who used testosterone gels saw small improvements in their muscle-to-fat-ratio, but not too many noticeable benefits to their physical wellbeing in terms of energy, flexibility and endurance.
Based on these findings, it is not altogether clear what testosterone therapy can do in addition to physical exercise, said Dr. Kerry Hildreth of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, the lead author of the study in an interview with Reuters. The therapy may be “widely used in people where it really may not be appropriate or may not provide the benefits that people think it’s going to,” she added.
There are also concerns over side effects. Skin irritations such as acne and rashes as well as premature balding and breast development have been reported in cases of prolonged use of testosterone boosters. There are also risks of liver damage.
Besides the physiological effects, there can be a psychological impact as well. Mood swings, irritability and aggressive behavior have been noticed.
To maintain physical vigor at an advanced age, regular exercise, especially strength and endurance training, may still be the best way to go. As the study mentioned above showed, testosterone therapy brought few if any advantages beyond what could be achieved by exercising alone. In addition, I would advocate a healthy diet and stress management, both issues that grow in importance with aging.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
People get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. At least that’s the most widely held explanation for the growing obesity crisis around the world. But it’s not that simple, says Dr. Achim Peters, a professor of neurology at the University of Lübeck in Germany and author of “The Selfish Brain – Why Our Brain Sabotages Dieting and Resists the Body” (Ullstein, 2011).
The worldwide obesity epidemic is in truth a stress epidemic, and unhealthy weight gain is just one of the ills that plague an increasingly stressed population trying to cope with the ever-growing demands of modern life, he says in an interview with the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (2/9/2013).
In reality, weight issues are often rooted in socio-economic difficulties like job loss, poverty, rising food prices and other existential uncertainties, he says. It puts tremendous pressure on people. Stress-producing situations can be immensely damaging to our health, especially when they persist over long periods of time with no reprieve in sight.
Dr. Peters is best known for the “Selfish Brain Theory,” which he developed together with an interdisciplinary team of scientists over a decade ago when researching the origins of obesity. In essence, the theory describes how the brain takes care of its own needs first when regulating energy distribution throughout the body. It is “selfish” in the sense that it always wins out in any competition for energy resources, at the expense of all other organs if necessary.
In times of stress, the brain spends particularly high amounts of energy, which requires an increase in food intake. During acute stress situations, a rapid spike in energy demand is natural and not harmful. It is different when stress is prolonged. Then it can become a chronic state and as such quite dangerous.
To shed some light on these dynamics, it is important to understand our body’s hormonal responses to stress. Energy in the body is regulated and mobilized by a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol selects the right type and amount of energy to meet the body’s demands when responding to a particular situation. Cortisol is also responsible for mobilizing energy by tapping into the body’s fat stores and moving it to where it’s most needed, primarily in the brain.
Studies in animals and humans have shown that heightened secretion of cortisol is associated with increased appetite, especially for sugar. In cases of enduring stress, this can stimulate food consumption to the point of overeating with all the detrimental consequences we are so familiar with. Moreover, too much cortisol can slow the metabolism, causing more weight gain than would normally occur. It can also affect fat distribution. Fat in the stomach area is considered a greater health risk than when it’s stored around the hips and thighs.
Ultimately, we will not be able to address the obesity crisis effectively if we continue to ignore the effects of chronic stress on our hormonal system, says Dr. Peters. Asking people to diet and force themselves to lose weight through deprivation can only make things worse. The solution is to de-stress our lives. This doesn’t mean more yoga and meditating, although that can help too, but mostly better socio-economic security and, as a result, peace of mind for more people.
As a point in case he cites a study conducted by the University of Chicago that compared two groups of single mothers from low-income neighborhoods. One group of women was moved to a more upscale area with safer streets, greater job opportunities and better schools, the other was left in place. Within a few years, most of the women who had moved away showed considerable improvement in their health, especially in reduction of diabetes and obesity. As their stress lessened, their well-being increased on every level.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading Can’t Lose Weight? t Could Be Stress
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.