Male Menopause: Fact or Fiction?

September 24th, 2010 § 12 comments § permalink

I hear that Mel Gibson allegedly blamed what he called depressed and “whacky” behavior on “male menopause.” Putting aside the question of whether he actually wrote the note circulating on the internet, (and that’s a big if,) is there a male menopause?  If the answer is yes, can it affect behavior and cause depression?

Testosterone levels do decrease, especially as a man gets older.  In one study, testosterone fell on average 110 ng/dL each decade in men over sixty.  As the FDA puts the normal line for testosterone in men at 300 ng/dL, that’s a big drop.  But it’s happening over ten years.

That’s the essential problem with calling the decline in testosterone as men age “menopause.” The word refers to the rapid plummet of women’s reproductive hormones around age fifty.  When a woman’s hormones drop in a short timespan, it’s fairly obvious to her that they’re changing .  But male hormones fall more gradually, though the decline is substantial.

Worse, a blood protein called “sex hormone binding globulin,” SHBG for short, is on the rise in the older man.  As its name implies, SHBG binds testosterone and renders it useless.  The drop in testosterone as men age is magnified by the climb in SHBG.

If testosterone was unnecessary, its decline would go unnoticed, but it’s one of the most important hormones a man has.  Low testosterone in older men is associated with muscle wasting, thinning of bones, loss of sex drive, depression and other problems.  Testosterone isn’t the only reason for these ailments, but it can be a big part of the puzzle.

If Mel did blame depression on “male menopause,” meaning a low testosterone, it’s possible that the 54 year old actor is feeling a drop in his hormones.  If he hasn’t already, he’ll want to get his testosterone checked.