WITH celebrities like Rolling Stone rocker Ronnie Wood becoming a father again — this time to twins — at age 68, it’s not surprising that men aren’t clued into the hormonal changes that take place in their body as they age.
For women, it’s clear-cut; our hormonal dip influences our fertility and the symptoms that occur during menopause are well documented.
But when men begin to suffer from mood swings, hot flushes, fatigue, loss of libido, lack of self-confidence, erectile dysfunction, sleep disturbance, and lack of motivation, they may well be confused about what’s happening, or stick their heads in the sand.
A survey published last month by Besins Healthcare proved this point; it found that 50% of Irish men do not know that testosterone deficiency (TD) is a medical condition — although it affects 8% of men aged between 50 and 79 years.
And research carried out among Irish GPs earlier this year by pharmaceutical consultancy firm, Allmarket, showed that 82% of them felt TD is underdiagnosed in this country.
“Men don’t have such a dramatic effect because their testicles don’t fail overnight — as we know, from hearing about people like Ronnie Wood and his twins,” says Professor Thomas Lynch, consultant urological surgeon at St James Hospital and Trinity College.
“When men begin to feel the symptoms of declining testosterone levels, they tend to put them down to ageing and say ‘I will put up with it’, whereas women won’t do that, and I think men need to learn from them.”
“Some men come to me with other symptoms or vague symptoms, because I’m a urologist and my main practice is with men over 50 with prostate and kidney problems, but in closer questioning they talk about other aspects of their life.
“Their sex drive might be down, they may have difficulty sleeping, feeling a little low, or have lack of concentration.
"If I listed all these things though, 95% of men would say ‘that’s me — I must have low testosterone’.
“So we must be careful as all these symptoms can be due to other conditions,” he tells Feelgood.
“But definitely there are some men who can benefit from testosterone replacement therapy. It can give them a bit of a gee-up.
"I suggest trying testosterone for maybe two months and if it works for them, then they can continue it and if doesn’t, they can stop it — there’s no big deal about stopping it.”
Simply taking the prescribed testosterone gel once a day after his shower, may seem like a magic solution for a man, but the therapy isn’t without its critics.
Research published in The Lancet this year suggests that a long-held belief that testosterone therapy raised cardio and prostate illness risks, has no foundation.
Lynch, whose expertise is in prostate cancer, agrees and says he continues to prescribe testosterone for his patients who have had surgery.
“However what men need to be aware of, is that there are down sides and risks associated to testosterone therapy, albeit it’s pretty low, and if men benefit from testosterone there can be quite a dramatic response.
"Some men take it and even though they have low levels there are no benefits at all. But it’s worth the trial for a month or two.”
While all men suffer from a testosterone decrease, it’s unclear from the research literature whether testosterone therapy should be given to older men who are otherwise healthy — who have no issues going on that disrupt their lives, he says.
In his 50s himself, would he take it?
“If necessary yes I would. I’m not taking it, but if I had the symptoms of testosterone deficiency and my levels were low I would have no hesitation in taking it.”
The TD research found only 45% of Irish men regularly discuss physical and mental wellbeing with their partners and 39% are more comfortable talking about difficult financial matters than sensitive health topics.
The lack of awareness about TD can also present as a libido problem among couples who come for counselling, says Anne Mathews, a Dublin-based sexual counselling psychotherapist.
“In my experience it is more likely that the couple will come in because of the man having low desire, lack of energy and disengagement from loved ones, rather than being aware of TD being the issue.
"So as part of the assessment for participation in a sex therapy programme I would refer the man to his GP to rule out physical causes to his problems.”
Men do need to get talking about their symptoms, says Lynch.
“Women are better at going to the doctor at expressing things.
"If a fellow has an issue with an erection he won’t talk to his friends about it, or he won’t talk about his waterworks problems.
"What we need is for men to feel it’s natural to go and see their GP and have regular health check-ups and not feel that doing this is a sissy sort of thing to do.”
* For more information on testosterone deficiency check out www.whatistds.ie
John McAleer is the oldest member, at 78, of a 29-strong team who will represent Ireland at the 9th European Transplant and Dialysis Sports Championships in Vantaa, Finland from July 11 to 17.
The Games are a multi-sport event and open for all kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and bone marrow transplant recipients and dialysis patients.
John, from Jordanstown, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is a kidney transplant recipient, competing in golf, as well as in the Petanque singles and doubles events and 10-pin bowling.
Accompanied by his wife Bridget, this will be his fourth time to compete at the biennial European event, his second as a kidney transplant recipient, since previously he competed as a dialysis patient.
At the European Games in Poland in 2014, John won a silver medal in golf.
It’s not exactly bad press for exercising — but a study suggests older people don’t get the same benefits from working out as their younger counterparts.
For older people who think their bodies respond to exercise in the same way as those who are decades younger, it is bad news, but it shouldn’t discourage us.
Researchers at Northern Arizona University compared men aged 18 to 30 with men 55 and older who used exercise bikes for 30 minutes, while blood samples were collected to measure their cell function and antioxidant response.
Antioxidants are believed to protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals, but the study revealed that the older participants’ antioxidant response to exercise was more suppressed than their younger counterparts.
“Live each day as if your life had just begun."
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
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