By Angela Soeon Park, L.Ac.

Andropause is the male version of menopause; it refers to a process that a man undergoes when his body produces fewer androgens or male sex hormones. It can be difficult to tell when a man has reached andropause because his levels of testosterone, the most dominant male sex hormone, declines gradually over a long period of time. At some point in his life, a sufficient amount of testosterone is depleted and manifests itself clinically, affecting a man's quality of life, and mental and physical health.

Most men's testosterone levels peak in adolescence and early adulthood. In their 30's or 40's, and sometimes even earlier, testosterone levels begin to decline by approximately 1% to 2% per year. From their mid-40s to the age of 50, at least 35% of men worldwide will have low levels of testosterone. A reduction of testosterone is natural as men age, and andropause may occur so gradually and subtly that some men might not notice that the transition has taken place. Others, however, especially men who are overweight, with a poor diet and low levels of exercise, may be hit harder with the variety of male-specific symptoms.

With advancing age, one of the contributors to low testosterone is an increase in aromatase which is found in abundance in our adipose (fat) tissue. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen; this is why overweight men typically experience andropause more intensely than thinner men. Remember! A high concentration of aromatase leads to a reduction in testosterone levels because it converts testosterone to estradiol or estrogen.

Around middle age, it is not only testosterone and DHEA that are decreased, but also other hormones, such as thyroid hormone, cortisol, and growth hormone (HGH), among others which can increase the risk of chronic and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome X, as well as an overall increase in levels of Inflammation, which ultimately leads to chronic inflammatory disease.

The estrogen ends up as fat around men's bellies - contributing to the mid-age beer belly. But worry not, a compound from broccoli called diindolylmethane (DIM) can block aromatase and decrease the bad estrogen in your body. Additionally, studies have also shown that supplementation with them is associated with a reduced rate of prostate cancer.

An early diagnosis is very helpful because the earlier treatment starts, the better the prognosis. A blood test can determine if a man's testosterone levels fall below the normal range. Feelings of depression can hint at andropause so doctors typically test men's testosterone levels to know if a patient is dealing with androgen or just life itself. The most common signs of the advent of andropause, however, are an enlarged prostate, sterility, and other sexual difficulties such as low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Other signs and symptoms of andropause can include loss of muscle tone and strength, weight gain, osteoporosis, urinary problems, frequent infections, digestive problems, fatigue, memory problems, heart palpitations, hair loss, wrinkles, anxiety, nervousness and irascibility, melancholy and depression, psychological instability and sense of insecurity, along with insomnia while feeling the need to get more sleep.

While Western protocol diagnoses andropause by depleted testosterone levels, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a more nuanced approach. In Chinese medicine, all the symptoms related to a decrease in testosterone levels are related to the decreased energetic functioning of the Kidney energy network, in particular, Mingmen Fire which is crucial to life; it is the place where innate Qi is stored, the origin of life processes and the very root of existence.

The Mingmen Fire is expressed in the Yang functions of the Kidneys. This life-giving force is the fuel from which all body organs draw. For instance, the Mingmen Fire provides the warmth and energy needed to stimulate the reproductive system to make hormones and generate sperm and the digestive system to metabolize nutrients.

According to classical texts, the physical and emotional effects of aging, in general, occur largely due to, but not limited to, the decline of the Mingmen Fire. This is why a man may experience the loss of libido or infertility in his middle or later years due to the waning of this particular source of energy. When Mingmen Fire is diminished or extinguished, men tend to feel more fear and lack of confidence. Other signs include frequent urination, especially at night, a sore lower back or knees, and/or lethargy that becomes worse in cold temperatures and/or during the winter season.

Other than the natural aging process, chronic stress, overwork, or excessive sexual activity can lead to premature Kidney function disorder of imbalance or depletion. The symptoms of Kidney imbalance can include lethargy, lower back and knee pain, tinnitus, premature hair graying or loss of hair, and bladder or prostate issues.

From a TCM perspective, in order for Mingmen Fire to remain intact, it is important for men to keep their kidneys warm as they age. The peritoneum is the membrane housing the abdominal organs, and any organs outside of them, such as the kidneys and bladder, are called retroperitoneal organs. Because the kidneys lie outside the peritoneal cavity, they are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

It is natural for Kidney Qi to diminish as we age. Although it is vital at all stages of life; the older one becomes, the more important it is to support it so here are some simple ways to bring attention and nurture to your kidneys.

Your TCM practitioner may recommend that men warm their kidney area by applying a heating pad to the lower abdomen/genital area, and to the lower back at a low setting, for 10-15 minutes a day. This increases blood flow to the affected area and can reduce the discomfort of an enlarged prostate as well as decrease frequent night urination and/or low back. Heat treatments can be done year-round, but they may be especially helpful in the winter.

Certain foods help fortify Kidney Qi; they include lamb, beef, root vegetables, bone marrow soups, seeds (especially black sesame seeds), blueberries, blackberries, and beans shaped like the kidneys, such as kidney beans and black beans. Foods that are especially helpful for men suffering from symptoms of an enlarged prostate are pumpkin, mushrooms, and berries.

Nutrients such as diindolylmethane (DIM) works by blocking aromatase and prevents testosterone from being converted to estrogen, dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA provides a natural precursor to making testosterone and zinc, a mineral that's critical and healthy testosterone production.

Along with acupuncture, herbs are essential as an efficient way to treat symptoms. At the Tao of Wellness, we frequently prescribe Eucommia bark (Du Zhong), broomrape stem (Rou Cong Rong), wolfberries (Gou Qi Zi), Chinese raspberries (Fu Pen Zi), and Chinese dodder seeds (Tu Su Zi). These herbs are known for improving sexual function and building Kidney Qi. Our Superblend formula combines all of these Chinese herbs and others that may be needed to manage symptoms and work synergistically to balance a man's body. Many of these herbs are found in Spark Male.

Andropause is a natural aging process that can profoundly affect a man's quality of life, lead to emotional distress, and affect his sense of well-being. Traditional Chinese medicine can provide you and the man in your life with that which is needed to make the transition smoother and happier.

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