I’d like to talk to just the guys right now about something that will be important to you as you get older. I see a lot of men over age 50 in my busy orthopedic practice. One of their biggest concerns is losing strength as they age. They don’t want to lose independence because of frailty. I frequently get asked what they can do to keep their muscles and bones strong and they’re often surprised when I explain what’s really is behind their loss of strength.
Low-T Deficiency Ups A Man’s Risk for Disability
I frequently prescribe certain forms of exercise, diet and supplements to my patients to help their bones and muscles stay strong as they get older. But that’s just part of the story. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shed new light on something that may be more important to prevent functional disability as you get older. Your testosterone, or “T” levels.
The researchers’ study confirmed what many orthopedic doctors had believed for some time. That is, a man seems to lose more muscle mass, as he gets older, than a woman does, especially over age 65. The reason for this, their study says, is decreased testosterone levels.
Testosterone, a steroid, governs a man’s muscular composition and how he functions physically. Low “T” levels can set you up for decreased muscle mass and loss of strength, especially in your lower body. This puts you at higher risk for falls that can result in severe fractures like those of the hips and legs.
The researchers, out of Kaiser Permanente Health Care System in Portland, Oregon, revealed that men over age 65, with higher testosterone levels, had much less muscle mass loss in arms and legs. They had less loss of leg function and could stand up more easily from a chair, without loss of balance, than those men with lower testosterone levels.
In their assessments of men in this age group, they tested a number of things – their ability to rise from a chair, their grip strength, lower extremity strength and how fast they could walk. The men with higher testosterone levels had much “younger” scores than similarly aged men with lower testosterone levels. The researchers concluded that higher-to-normal testosterone levels were associated with a more functional and healthy aging in older men.
So, does that mean that older men are doomed to less strength and independence because of natural testosterone decline as they get older? Well, first, I’d like to assure you that getting older doesn’t have to mean a significant decrease in testosterone.
If you’re healthy, decreasing testosterone as you get older isn’t a natural given. If you’re deficient in testosterone, it’s likely more the result of an underlying illness. This was the finding of a separate study out of Australia recently that said a man’s age itself is not the cause of decreasing testosterone. This is surprising new evidence as many researchers, and doctors alike, have believed that, “andropause” in men – like menopause in women – is a result of a natural, age-related decline in testosterone.
The Australian researchers pointed out, that if this were true, all older men would undergo a decline in testosterone levels, but they don’t. Those men studied who were in excellent health had normal testosterone levels. This was despite also being in the andropause age bracket over 40, median age 60.
Those men with symptoms of fatigue, low libido, depression – some common symptoms typically associated with low “T” in men, were also found to have other underlying conditions. These most often included obesity and heart disease. Their low T, the researchers concluded, was not from age-related hormone deficiency – rather the underlying health condition.
How Do These Studies Benefit You, An Older Man?
The take-away from these studies is that decreased testosterone isn’t a natural, foregone conclusion of getting older. But if you are deficient in testosterone, you’ll be at higher risk for muscle mass loss, weakness, falls and fractures as you get older.
Therefore, if you are deficient in testosterone (blood levels at your doctor’s office can tell), you’ll want to address any underlying health condition that may be causing it. If you’re overweight, you’ll want to normalize your weight. You’ll also want to get screened for heart disease and start treatment for that. It’s also a good idea to get a general check up to see if there are any other underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your low T levels.
In the meantime, I recommend boosting testosterone levels naturally through these methods:
- Exercise. Weight training as well as HIIT (high intensity interval training) boosts testosterone naturally. It also helps increase muscle mass and strength. But don’t overdo it. 3-4 times per week is recommended.
- Diet. Get rid of all the foods that contain “xenoestrogens”. These are environmental estrogens that can suppress a man’s testosterone production. Don’t microwave food in plastic dishes that can leach a major xenoestrogen bisphenol-A into your food. Be sure to include steamed broccoli in your diet as its indoles help pull xenoestrogens out of your body.
Normal cholesterol levels are good, but too low total cholesterol can be a problem as you need it to make testosterone. Don’t be afraid to include some eggs and grass fed beef in your diet. These also increase zinc that helps build muscle and testosterone.
- Sleep. Lack of adequate rest can zap testosterone levels significantly. It also creates inflammation in your body that sets you up for illness.
- Lifestyle. Too much alcohol, caffeine, stress, smoking decreases testosterone by raising cortisol levels. They can also increase your risk for other diseases.
- Supplements. Deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals could create low T levels too. Be sure your Vitamin D3 levels are normal. If not, supplement with 1-2,000 IU daily. Also, get enough Omega-3 oils (2-4,000 mg a day) to create LH – luteinizing hormone that stimulates production of testosterone. You may also be low in DHEA that helps create testosterone. Get your levels tested and supplement accordingly.
Stay a strong, powerful and independent man, even as you get older, by paying close attention to your health. Get yearly, or semi-annual, check-ups, to rule out underlying health conditions. Also, be proactive in maintaining good testosterone levels through optimal nutrition, exercise, rest, and avoiding things in your life that could be zapping your testosterone.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Older Men with higher testosterone levels lose less muscle mass as they age, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111027083043.htm
Older Age Does Not Cause Testosterone Levels to Decline in Healthy Men, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110607121129.htm
Supplementing with DHEA for Low Testosterone, http://www.testosteroneproblems.com/supplementing-with-dhea-for-low-testosterone/