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Androgen Deficiency: A Growing Problem for Aging Men

In my last post, I said I would talk about a hormone problem I am having. Its name is, “Androgen Deficiency.” It affects many aging men, particularly those of us who grew up in the USA. It is seldom diagnosed. It makes your life suck. And there’s a good chance it will affect you too (if it isn’t already).

Something Was Not Right

I am 58 now. Several years ago, I realized that something was not right with my life. I was living the life I had worked for years to achieve. I had achieved all the personal goals I had set for myself years earlier.

I should have been on cloud nine. But everything was kind of gray and dreary. I had little drive or energy. Staying fit was becoming ever tougher. I was starting to look and feel old.

I thought maybe I was lost because I had achieved all my goals. To fix that, I went to Puerto Rico for three months to work for a startup. That helped a little, but not much.

I started doing some research and found that I was exhibiting all the symptoms of low testosterone. I asked my doctor if I could get tested for this, but he said no. He told me I was simply depressed and needed to get more exercise and sunshine. That helped a little, but I was still dragging.

As I read more, I learned that Testosterone levels are declining worldwide. The problem is particularly acute in the USA. Long-term studies conducted in the United States have shown that at any given age, each generation has a lower level of Testosterone than the previous one.

Given all of the above, the idea that I was suffering from low testosterone (androgen deficiency) sure seemed to fit the bill.

This Is Where You Come Into the Picture

If you are an aging male from the United States, there is a good chance that this story sounds familiar. If so, you should definitely talk to your doctor about getting your testosterone levels checked.

Low testosterone is an ever-more common problem, but it is seldom tested. There seems to be stigma against the entire concept of testosterone up there. While my whole adventure with this has taken place here in Ecuador, I’ve read reports of guys in the USA needing to go to several doctors before finding one who would even agree to test their testosterone levels. Even here, my primary care guy said no.

So if you are seeing the kinds of symptoms I’ve described, you should definitely talk to your doctor. But before you do, keep reading. There’s another wrinkle to this story.

Self-Medicating: Finding Supplements That Helped

My research and my doctor’s refusal to test led me to try self medicating. (The fact that I was too apathetic to argue with the doctor is in itself a good sign that my testosterone levels were low!)

I started looking into ways to boost my testosterone levels. I found a lot of hype and bullshit, along with a few things that can have a small positive effect. Then I found a supplement that really seemed to do the trick. I started taking this stuff and within days I felt better, looked buffer, had more energy, everything. I figured I had found the answer.

Then the FDA forced the product off the market. Damn!

After a while, I found a new supplement. This had much the same benefits as the stuff I was using, but worked via a different mechanism. Life was great again.

For a while.

I got great results from the minimum daily dosage of the supplement. But as the months went by, I found I needed more and more to get the same results. After about two years I was taking the maximum recommended dose but it seemed to have little effect. I thought it was a problem with long-term use of this supplement. But it seems something else was at work.

Blood Tests with Very Weird Results

About this time, my brother had started seeing a new doctor for an unrelated issue. Amongst other good things, he prescribed more thorough blood tests for both my brother and me. He included testosterone levels and a bunch of other stuff I never heard of. It was expensive but very enlightening.

First I saw that the testosterone-boosting supplement I was taking was doing its job. My level of Total Testosterone was off the charts. As in higher than was normal for a guy in his 20’s.

The next thing I noticed was that two related results were also sky-high. Both my Estradiol and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) levels were way too high.

I started researching and quickly learned that Estradiol is a component of the primary female sex hormone Estrogen. Very roughly, in guys, Estradiol counteracts the action of Testosterone. So my high Estradiol levels were working to counteract my high levels of Total Testosterone.

And SHBG is a protein that tightly binds to sex hormones (both Testosterone and Estrogen/Estradiol). As a result, SHBG renders Testosterone and Estradiol unavailable for your body to use.

This is important because the level of Free Testosterone in your body is what matters. Free Testosterone is the fraction of your Total Testosterone that isn’t bound to substances like SHBG. That means it is available for your body to use. Using some equations I found online, I calculated that my level of SHBG was sufficient to leave me with virtually no Free Testosterone despite my high levels of Total Testosterone.

Estradiol and SHBG levels both tend to climb quickly as men age. Now throw in the generally lower levels of testosterone production that guys from the United States suffer from. The result is a straight path to Androgen Deficiency in our 50’s and maybe even our 40’s.

More and more people are starting to recognize that low Testosterone levels can be a problem. But there is more to the story than simply driving your Testosterone levels to the moon. Too much Testosterone can cause problems in itself. There are healthy ranges for Testosterone, Estradiol, and SHBG that you want to hit. If all three are not in the right range, you end up with problems.

This is an important point for you to bear in mind before getting blood work done. Oftentimes, doctors will test only your Total Testosterone, and not Estradiol and SHBG.

Without all three results, you are left guessing. Is my Testosterone high enough? Is my Estradiol too high? How about my SHBG? Both of them? All three things screwed up? If you don’t have all the information, you can end up like me, manipulating the one variable you know about and hoping for the best.

Now What Do I Do?

Now that I have all the information, I know what I need to do. I need to somehow generate more Free Testosterone. My Total Testosterone is already sky-high, so trying to push it higher doesn’t seem like a good idea. That leaves me with trying to reduce Estradiol and SHBG.

There are lots of things you can do to try and lower these levels.

  • You can change your diet (broccoli helps reduce Estradiol and eating more carbs can lower your SHBG)
  • Exercise more (if you do the right kinds of exercises)
  • Use fewer plastic containers (which contain estrogen-like substances that can leech into your food or drinks)
  • And more

 

I am only at the beginning of this process. But thanks to getting the comprehensive blood work, I at least know what I need to do. I’m already seeing results that show I am on the right track. Life gets better by the day.

Update

A few days ago, I met with my endocrinologist. This was a follow-up meeting to review testing he ordered for me. The result of that meeting was that I am now taking something to reduce my level of Total Testosterone. After making changes to my diet and supplements, I have gotten my Estradiol and SHBG into the normal ranges. But the Testosterone is still too high. Too much Testosterone is generally less of a problem than too little, but it makes sense to get everything into the normal ranges. We’ll know more in a month.

Conclusion

If you are a middle-aged male, particularly if you grew up in the United States, Androgen Deficiency is a real risk. If you are feeling run down, low energy, getting fat, and just don’t give a damn, you are probably already experiencing this wonderful syndrome.

Talk to your doctor. Get your testosterone levels tested. And make sure the doc ticks the boxes for Estradiol and SHBG too. What you learn could really change your life.