In an effort to modernize the diagnosis and treatment of male-specific health issues that arise during mid-life, a new term evolved in the acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) and Western medical communities called andropause.
Though it is often referred to as "male menopause," andropause is more than the male equivalent of menopause, as it presents its own unique set of symptoms, causes and patterns of onset.
Defining and Identifying Andropause
Andropause refers to the process a man undergoes when the body produces fewer androgens (male sex hormones). The hormone most strongly affected is testosterone, as it is the most dominant of all the male hormones we know of. Testosterone not only plays a vital role in the sexual development of a man, but greatly affects the overall health of his body and mind.
Testosterone directly influences many bodily functions and organs, including heart, prostate, muscles, blood sugar, fat metabolism, bone density, libido, mental cognition, sudden mood changes, depression and anger also may result from andropause.
The Symptoms of Andropause
The decline of testosterone production gradually starts in the early thirties and continues through the mid-fifties. In contrast to menopause, which happens over a much shorter period of time, the signs of andropause creep up gradually, making an accurate diagnosis tricky. Signs and symptoms of andropause can include loss of libido, enlarged prostate, weight gain, osteoporosis, sterility, urinary problems and infections, and digestive problems.
According to Culley C. Carson, M.D., of Boston University, School of Medicine, it is estimated that more than 60 percent of men over age 65 have free testosterone levels below the normal values of men in the 30 to 35 age range. While the incremental loss of testosterone represents the natural life cycle in an aging, healthy male, more severe levels of decrease can prove detrimental. It is in these cases an AOM practitioner may recommend acupuncture and lifestyle changes.
An early diagnosis is very helpful as the earlier treatment starts, the better the prognosis for the patient. A blood test will determine if a man's testosterone levels fall below the normal range.
How AOM Approaches Andropause
According to classical texts, the physical and emotional effects of aging in general occur largely due to, but not limited to, the decline of the Mingmen Fire. Also known as the Ministerial Fire, it resides near the spine, between the two kidneys and at the level of the umbilicus. This life-giving force is the fuel from which all the organs of the body draw from. For instance, the Mingmen Fire provides the warmth and energy needed to stimulate the large intestine. Once in motion, it can perform its job of excreting waste from the body.
One reason why a man may experience the loss of libido or infertility in his middle or later years is due to the waning of the Mingmen Fire. If this is the case and the fire is out, other signs such as frequent urination, sore lower back or knees and/or lethargy may also be present. In this case, perhaps your AOM practitioner will select points on your body for a moxa treatment.
Moxa--also called moxibustion--comes in many forms, but all utilize the dried form of the herb mugwort. One popular type of moxa treatment is called stick moxa, which resembles a cigar. One end is lit up until it starts smoking and then held near a point on the body. As the heat and energy enter the body, the patient's Qi (energy) receives nourishment and vitality. This can prove particularly useful in certain cases of andropause or diminishing Ministerial Fire because, as stated in one of the most respected AOM texts, the Nei Jing, "when the master is dim, the 12 officials are all in a state of crisis." The master refers to the Ministerial Fire and the 12 officials represent the 12 main organs in the body, including the kidneys, heart and liver.
Conserve Sexual Jing
Another way for aging men to conserve the Ministerial Fire is through conservative sexual practices. According to AOM, when a man orgasms it is believed that he loses some of his essence or jing. Jing is a vital, fundamental substance responsible for growth, development, sexual maturation and reproduction. Seminal fluid is one of the components of jing, and as a man ages he cannot afford to lose it. While this particular type of jing is supported by nutrients from food and air, it cannot be replenished once it is lost.
Keep the Kidneys Warm
From an AOM perspective, it is important for men to keep their kidneys warm as they age. The kidneys lie outside the peritoneal cavity, which makes them more vulnerable to the cold. The peritoneum is the membrane housing the abdominal organs and any organs outside of them, such as the kidneys and bladder, are called retroperitoneal organs. Some practitioners may recommend that men who are experiencing andropause can apply a heating pad to the kidneys for 10-15 minutes per day on a low setting to help the kidneys stay warm. This can be done year round, but is especially helpful in winter.
Rest and Rejuvenate the Heart
If you drink coffee and have concerns about the health of your heart, it is advisable to refrain from drinking it between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1p.m. It is during these two hours that the heart organ is most active, according to the AOM theory regarding the body's circadian clock. Every two hours like clock-work, a different organ receives maximum attention and potential for influence. If one does things to support the energy of the hour, then the organ benefits. If one chooses less healthy options, the organ may suffer.
During the hours corresponding to the heart, it is best to eat a nutritious lunch and then rest. Drinking coffee during this time may overstimulate your heart when this should be a more restful time for rejuvenation of the heart.
If there are concerns regarding fertility, avoid wearing tight underwear and prolonged exposure to cold water. The testicles need to maintain a certain temperature in order to produce healthy sperm. Fluctuations in body temperature may interfere with this. Consider wearing loose underwear and pants, and limit time spent in a wet bathing suit.
Monitor the Prostate
If you start noticing a frequent urge to urinate, difficulty in urinating or pain on urination, consider seeing your physician for a prostate exam. The cells of the prostate tend to proliferate during andropause, causing an enlargement of the gland. Many men experience prostate problems during their middle years, and it is best to discuss these issues with both your practitioner and your physician.
For men, the onset of andropause may be gradual and, as such, the symptoms hard to diagnose. The natural decline of the Mingmen Fire or Ministerial Fire may also compound or worsen symptoms of andropause. When the Ministerial Fire is out, the body becomes cold and old age sets in. However, long before that, many of the mild to more severe conditions may respond very well to different acupuncture and Oriental medicine therapies. Your practitioner can help determine which therapies will be most beneficial in your individual case.
Call a practitioner near you today to see how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can ease your transition through changes in your life!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.