Tag Archives for " Better Health "

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.

To Become More Productive, Stop Working

A lot of getting productive has nothing at all to do with your work. Think about it. We’re not machines. If we don’t take care of ourselves in general, we are going to be a lot less effective at anything we do.

This simple fact was brought home to me last night. I am in a Thursday night pool league, and have been doing very well. But yesterday, I suffered a mild case of food poisoning after eating lunch at a local restaurant.

By evening I was feeling okay, so figured I had better go play. It was too late to get a substitute and I didn’t want to let my teammates down.

It didn’t go too well.

I could not get it together. The focus wasn’t there. I couldn’t string together two good shots in a row. It was not an impressive showing. Not being 100% healthy in my guts affected my ability to shoot a pool ball.

We are complex systems and everything affects everything else. That’s why we sometimes need to stop working to become more productive.

The idea here is that we need to attend to various non-work factors if we want to be productive in our work. There are three factors in particular that you need to get right if you want to be productive.

You need to:

  • Eat Right
  • Exercise Your Body
  • Rest Your Mind

We should talk about these three factors in some detail here. You’ll soon see why they are so important. You’ll also see why stopping work to address them will make you more productive, not less so.

Eat Right

I am sure you realize that food is vitally important. And that “eating right” can help you be more productive. But knowing what is right to eat can be hard. There is so much conflicting advice to sort through.

And man is it hard to eat right when you are scrambling to get stuff done. I’m sure I am not the only person to work through their lunch to meet a deadline. And I’m sure I’m not the only person to grab a snack from the vending machine instead of eating a regular meal. After all, I was really busy.

You’ve got to resist these urges. Working through lunch might get that report turned in on time. However, you are likely to be less than 100% for the rest of the day. Your blood sugar levels will drop and you will be craving food.

This will lead you to the vending machine, where you will find only unhealthy junk. The junk food will drive your blood sugar up, then bring it crashing down. It will be hard to focus, possibly even to stay awake. And that will drive you back to the vending machine to repeat the cycle.

How to Eat Right (to Make You More Productive)

Now I am not a nutritionist or any kind of medical expert. Still my research and my personal experience tells me a few things. Foremost is that for most people, eating right means less carbs and more protein.

The US government recommends a diet made up of lots of carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. If you look around the USA, you can see the results. They aren’t pretty. Eating the recommended diet results in serious weight gain. It also tends to leave you far from your most productive.

usda food pyramid screen capture
Screen capture from USDA Food Guide Pyramid pamphlet.

One simple step you can take to be more productive all day is to eat a high-protein breakfast. Many high-performance people extol the virtues of a high-protein, low-carb breakfast. One such person is Charles Poliquin, who trains many Olympic and professional athletes. He says that this kind of breakfast leaves you feeling fuller. At the same time, you consume fewer calories.

Why? This kind of breakfast results in a slower, more prolonged rise in your blood sugar than a carb-heavy meal. This keeps you awake and alert, allowing you to concentrate better for longer. At the same time, with stable blood sugar, you are less likely to have cravings for junk food.

Combine all these effects and it is easy to see how this kind of breakfast can set you up to be more productive.

Try eating a high-protein breakfast for a few days and see if you notice a difference. I know that I am definitely more productive when I have the discipline to start my days off this way.

Exercise Your Body

We evolved in the wild, hunting, and fighting, and running for our lives. So it is only logical that our bodies are adapted to a life of action. Sitting in front of a computer for hours a day (as I am doing right now) is not natural for us.

Our world doesn’t force us to be active to survive the way our ancestors were. Several years ago, I visited a recreation of a Colonial New England town. I was told that people back then worked so hard that they burned over 6,000 calories a day!

Few of us would want to go back to that, but we do pay a price for our easier lives. Our bodies are not adapted to the sedentary modern world. We don’t perform as well if we never get any exercise.

Adding some exercise to your life will improve the functioning of your body. That can make you more productive in whatever you do. Happily, we don’t have to live the strenuous lives of our ancestors to benefit.

At almost any level, some exercise is better than none. And a little more exercise gives you a little more benefit. If you are not already doing so, it makes sense to start exercising. And if you are already exercising, try doing a little more.

I am not going to try to tell you what exercise program is right for you. That is way beyond my field of expertise. And I am not going to share my workout program with you. I am a 58-year old guy who was out of action for a long time after contracting the Chikungunya virus. My needs and circumstances are pretty atypical.

I can make a couple of suggestions though.

Number 1 is, start slow, and don’t worry about impressing anyone. The goal should be to do a little more than you are doing now, without injuring yourself. Impressing people with your pullup prowess doesn’t matter if you injure yourself.

Number 2 is, if you are far out of shape, talk to your doctor before starting. Exercise is good. Giving yourself a heart attack or a stroke is bad.

Rest Your Mind

We tend to forget this, but thinking requires physical energy. Our brains burn something like 20% of all the calories used by our bodies. It is unclear whether thinking harder actually burns more calories. Whether it does or not, we do know that concentrating on something drains us over time.

rest your mind to be more productive

Your mind is a busy organ. Sometimes it needs rest.

We can only concentrate on one thing for a limited amount of time. The amount of time varies from person to person, but we aren’t machines. We simply can’t stay completely focused on one task all day.

So what do you do when you need to be productive all day?

You can try to power through the mental exhaustion. But don’t expect to get good results. You can’t do your best work in this state.

I frequently take siestas during the day. The difference in productivity between right before and after the siesta, is amazing. I sometimes find myself thinking, “Wow! I was really stupid earlier today.”

Why such a huge difference? Right before the siesta, I will have worked hard for hours, and I am tired. Those two things, sustained focus and tiredness, really make it hard to be productive.

But then comes the siesta. Sometimes I sleep. Other times I read or simply rest with me eyes closed. Frequently I will be back at my desk, focused and working productively, in 20 minutes. It’s surprising how much of a difference such a short break can make.

This works because I am resting my mind. During a siesta, I am not concentrating hard on anything, even if I am reading. I am getting physical rest as well as relaxing my mind.

Whatever “energy” it is that allows me to stay focused runs out after a while. I need to step away from the work every so often to recharge that energy and be productive again. Whether you realize it or not, you do too.

If you work in an office, you probably can’t take a siesta in the middle of the day. But you can do something to rest your mind every so often. Even something as simple as walking to the restroom, or chatting with someone at the water cooler for a moment can do it. I am sure you will be more productive when you return to your work.

Conclusion

Non-work factors definitely play a part in becoming more productive. Eating right, exercising your body, and resting your mind are all things that take minutes away from working. But all of them make you much more productive, despite the lost minutes. Try it yourself and see.

References

References used in this post:

Being free to do less

Be Free to Do Less

Have you ever thought what it would be like to be free to do less?

If you live in the West, particularly in the United States, you are likely on the run every waking minute. Part of that is necessity. With the economy falling apart, jobs scarce, and raises non-existent, most people have to bust ass just to keep from drowning.

But a big part of this is cultural. In the USA, there is always pressure for more. More stuff, bigger stuff, better stuff. Already got more stuff than you know what to do with? That’s not important. Buy more.

You are bombarded 24/7 with advertisements and subtle pressure to work harder and borrow more money to buy more shit you don’t really need. And recently it has gotten even worse. Now the governments of the West are busy flogging you to buy more stuff too.

After 9/11, President Bush said that everyone needed to go shopping to get the economy moving again. Since then governments everywhere say it is your duty to buy shit you don’t need to stimulate their economies and save the world from a recession or worse. And of course the central banks (the Fed, or Federal Reserve in the USA) are manipulating interest rates to punish you if you are evil enough to save, instead of borrow and spend.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have figured out how to change my life to (mostly) free myself from these pressures. Because of the way I’ve organized things, I am free to do less. I can live within my means, even while working for myself and putting in far less than 40 hours a week. And I don’t feel the pressure to have the latest, greatest, most expensive version of whatever the marketing guys are trying to ram down my throat this week. I even put my money in banks in places where you earn a decent amount of interest.

In other words, I am free to do less while maintaining a good quality of life.

I’m not perfect of course. I grew up in the USA and still get those occasional mad urges to buy something new and shiny and expensive that I don’t really want or need. But those impulses are mostly under control now.

What You Gain When You Are Free to Do Less

When you are free to do less, your stress levels will go down and your health will likely improve. Over the last few years I’ve lost about 25 pounds. I look and feel much healthier than most of the guys I went to school with. And because I am not constantly working, I am free to actually live.

Yesterday we spent the entire afternoon visiting with friends, playing pool, and watching a soccer match on TV. It was a Tuesday and you were probably busting your butt at the office. If you keep working to be freer tomorrow, you will eventually be free to do less. You’re gonna like it.


Being free to do less is great. But sometimes that’s not what you want. You can also be free to do more.