Men’s hormone levels may have a cyclical nature, but the causes remain elusive.
Over the years, studies have emerged indicating that men’s hormones have a cyclical nature, much like women’s menstrual cycles. Most men have daily fluctuations in testosterone due to external factors like sexual activity, stress and diet, but the reasons for monthly and seasonal fluctuations are still somewhat of a mystery.
On the one hand, it’s wonderful to see the medical community taking a look at the cycles and seasons of men’s health. Noticing this type of thing isn’t something men are encouraged to do in our culture. Feeling blue? Man up. Tired? Sore? Walk it off. So part of me is curious whether this investigation into male cycles is a good thing, a way of making room for men to be proactive about their health.
But my other response to reading about this was, “Really? Do we really need one more area where we are trying to make men and women the same instead of appreciating the differences?”
So I decided to dig a little deeper.
The often-quoted recent work on the subject is Jed Diamond’s writing and research on “Irritable Male Syndrome.” Diamond believes that the fluctuations in testosterone—daily, monthly and seasonally—have a dramatic impact on men’s moods and health. While Diamond is a psychotherapist and not a researcher, the research does support his findings, at least in terms of the cyclical changes. Diamond explains it this way:
Here is how it works: In the body, a certain amount of testosterone gets converted to estrogen. Males and females have estrogen and testosterone in our bodies. When we put on weight, our fat cells are more active in converting testosterone into estrogen. The more estrogen we have and the less testosterone we have, the more irritable we become and the less sense of our own manly strength that we have. That’s one way they get out of whack.
Diamond attributes this “Irritable Male Syndrome” to hormonal shifts, but primarily works with talk therapy to address it, as opposed to hormonal therapies or lifestyle changes. He does mention that hanging onto excess body fat can increase estrogen and that general wellness can help keep things on a more even keel.
So what we’re really talking about here is that when testosterone dips and estrogen is on the rise, men are experiencing something that’s a lot like PMS?
Is it because of women in the workplace? Too much soy? Internet porn? Aliens?
In 1972, Estelle Ramey wrote about the data from a 16-year study done in Denmark tracking the daily testosterone fluctuations. The study did show cyclical patterns within each 30-day period. In the absence of any data on how this affected the men, Ramey combined this information with another study tracking the changes in men’s moods and energy levels over the course of a month—without any hormonal data. Put the two together and you have something the Internet loves: a loose, unsubstantiated correlation promoted as fact.
The reality is, we don’t really know why men’s hormones fluctuate.
Traditional Chinese Medicine attributes the fluctuations in male energies to too much sexual activity (or more specifically—too much ejaculation) and depletion of jing through unhealthy habits. Ayurveda also looks at the male moon cycle as being affected by sexual activity, and equates seminal fluid as having the same energetic effect as women’s uterine blood; the belief is that ejaculation leaves men with the need to rest rebuild those energies. Western medicine? We still don’t know. The data doesn’t support the idea that too much sex messes with your testosterone levels on a long-range basis. We do know that when the highs and lows are too far out of the normal range, it has an adverse effect on men’s physical and emotional health.
So where does that leave us? Do men have “that time of the month”? That “time of the year”?
Will we start seeing products like Midol for Men, to help ease the irritability that goes along with these fluctuations? Will it become acceptable for men to take it easy at work on their low days? Should we cuddle the men in our lives a little extra or bring them chocolate during their time of the month? Odds are, it will be a while before the medical community translates these findings into something useful.
In the meanwhile, there are some helpful things you can do if your male energies seem to be on the wane. According to the seasonal studies, April is the low testosterone time of year for most men. If it’s been a low energy or irritable time for you, don’t go out in search of testosterone boosting supplements!
A few natural ways to boost testosterone (without turning into the Hulk):
Maca: Maca root is what’s referred to as an adaptogen. It balances the hormones rather than simply increasing one particular hormone, and helps increase overall energy and improves mood. It’s available as a powder that can be added to smoothies, and has a slightly nutty taste. If you’re not a fan, it’s also available in capsules.
Ginseng: Another adaptogen, ginseng is used in Chinese medicine (and now widely in the West as well) as a tonic for both men and women who are run down or to help boost qi. While it is not a stimulant like caffeine, high doses can have a stimulant effect; it’s best taken in the morning.
Oysters: Their reputation as an aphrodisiac is mostly due to the testosterone boost they offer from their high levels of zinc. If you are a vegetarian or allergic to shellfish, pumpkin seeds are another great zinc-rich food, and zinc supplements are available as well.
Watch your waist. Hanging on to extra weight—especially around the belly—will increase the amount of estrogen in your body and make testosterone take a nose dive.
Read more in Health, Psych & Addiction.
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