Sometimes my inspiration to write comes from very odd places, for instance the above bathroom sign. A visionary savings of your tax dollars at work on the UT campus or a sneaky joke at the reversal of gender roles and omnipresent endocrine disruption?
I will give these bathroom workers the benefit of the doubt in that this wasn’t meant as a crude joke to women with Metabolic Syndrome and/or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. The fact is that even these at risk women might not know that these type of diseases or conditions generally push them to a more masculinized state. Whereas, in men, increased abdominal fat will feminize us. So you can see at a very basic level, as both sexes age in our current environment, there is the reversal of gender roles and hormonal profiles.
Well unfortunately, our hormones naturally decrease with age (although some argue that the stark severity and harshness of this decline in both men and women only takes place in western societies). Regardless of your romanticism of the past, we are animals, and our utility will begin to diminish as we lose our ability to reproduce. Combine this decline with an onslaught of environmental xenoestrogens (which won’t be picked up in bloodwork), horrendous amounts of pesticides and pollutants, a never ending stream of stress, and a general lack of sleep and play, and our ability to gracefully age is severely compromised.
Think about it. How many men get docile as they age? They get a baby or not so baby gut and are bossed around by their wives. They drink beer and talk about the glory days of their youth. This sounds like an absolute joy for the women in these relationships who are now struggling to maintain their femininity through and past the menopausal years. They want to look sexy and want to want to have sex, but they can’t fight the internal dissonance of their hormonal levels. Whereas, the men may just be completely disinterested or unable to copulate.
On to some nerdery (mechanisms). Male hormones will diminish in western societies 1 to 2% per year starting in one’s thirties. DHEA, the most abundant androgen in circulation, peaks in the twenties and drops to 15 to 20% of youthful levels in old age. Furthermore, men on average lose 75% of their testosterone with age and sex hormone binding globulin generally increases with age in men, thus even less free testosterone. No bueno. Combine these factors with estrogen rising due to environmental sources as well as increased aromatase activity from increased fat mass and you have a very neuterizing public health recipe.
Women are usually much more complicated than men, and their hormonal orchestra is no different. Yet, in the post-menopausal years, the ovaries no longer provide much (if any) estrogen or progesterone, and this means that the adrenals become the major source of sex hormones. So one can already see how stress and HPA axis dysregulation can completely dismantle any chance of success in this already difficult time. Dr. Michael Cosgrove describes it very succinctly, ”After menopause, estrogen levels in women fall significantly, while testosterone levels continue their slow decline with age, leaving women relatively testosterone dominant after menopause.” To compound the problem, higher insulin levels from lifestyle are believed to stimulate 17,20 lyase, which pushes pregnenolone and progesterone towards the androgenic pathway. Increased insulin levels also lower sex hormone binding globulin, this means more free testosterone. Combine all this with impaired liver clearance, reduced GI and thyroid function, and the complications of estrogen metabolism, and the map towards feeling and looking great later in life becomes even more perplexing to follow.
Ladies, for more on this check out this post from Dr. Mark Hyman.
Thus, how do we avoid the writing on the wall which was so eloquently put there by these janitorial specialized construction workers?
Well…we take on our health early so that we have a shot to maintain our vigor and zest for life as long as possible – technically this is called increasing the health span. We don’t wait for the storm to come, we prepare for it, knowing that it will come. This is very hard for humans to do as we are not evolved to be able to live with a long view of time. But, with the right mindset and guidance, we can look for leading indicators of dysfunction on lab work and pay attention to potential early onset symptoms: a little excess fat around the belly, fatigue or increased energy after meals, cold hands or feet, constipation or diarrhea, excessive bloating and gas, dizziness when standing, overly sensitive to light, hair loss or hair growth, problems with short term memory, loss of libido, retaining fluid, and general fatigue, the list could go on for a while. Please don’t shove these “little” issues under the rug of my doctor says my lab work is normal. Because none of those symptoms are normal; they predict and indicate dysfunction, and although you may be able to live with them now, they will smolder and grow if left unchecked.
This post is not meant to be all doom and gloom, but a warning to take action. The human body is nothing short of amazing in its ability to heal and adapt. We have seen hormone levels in men nearly triple in just 90 days of exercise, lifestyle, and functional medicine interventions. For some, the situation will be a much more intricate web of symptoms and causes, and it will take a very skilled functional medicine practitioner to decide what to do, when. It will be a much longer road. Yet, the earlier you start this process, the more likely you are to catch things before they can’t be fixed and have to instead be managed. If you need help finding a guide for this area of your life, feel free to email; if you are in Chicago, Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I can likely link you up with a really solid match for your particular situation. If you are not in those cities, you can search for a practitioner on the Institute of Functional Medicine website.
By: Ben House PhD Candidate, FDN, fNMT