Aging and Men’s Health – Maintaining Healthy Testosterone Levels, Part 1

What are Men’s Sex Hormones?

Androgens is the term we use to refer to men’s sex hormones, namely testosterone, androstenedione, androstenediol, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) and dehydroepiandosterone sulfate (DHEA-S). All androgens are made from cholesterol via a complex pathway of metabolism with multiple intermediate molecules. This is why it is so important to eat healthy fats, like pastured butter or ghee, egg yolks, salmon, and nuts, to name a few. A cholesterol-free diet would severely limit our health potential, but the key here is to eat fats from healthy sources, not from fast food restaurants, processed foods, or other “junk” foods.

Testosterone levels peak a few times during the course of a man’s life. The peak we’re most familiar with is during puberty, at which point the total testosterone levels rise to about 600 ng/dL (that’s nanograms per deciliter of blood) and stays there until somewhere between age 45 and 50 years. This is when men start to exhibit andropause, a decline in the sex hormone levels. Testosterone makes a steady descent back towards 300 at age 80. These numbers are averages. Individuals will vary, and so will the reference range for normal depending on the lab doing the testing.

The total testosterone levels measured in blood decline so slowly that they may seem constant. An important component of the total testosterone number, free testosterone change quite quickly into a decline. Ninety-seven to 99% of all testosterone floating around in your blood is bound to other molecules, which means it already has a job it’s doing. That 1-3% of free testosterone is testosterone looking for a job to do. As we age the amount of molecules that bind to hormones also increases. So, we’re faced with a  decline in hormone production plus an increase in the stuff that takes hormones out of circulation. Additionally, the body starts converting testosterone into other substances more often, too. Aging is generally bad news for free testosterone levels.

Also, take into account that a man’s body will naturally start making more estradiol, a potent form of estrogen (the hormone that makes women look like women), to support brain function. Combine that with men being overexposed to environmental exo-estrogens and pollutants, which also bind to free testosterone, plus this “normal” decline in free testosterone, and we see men are in a difficult spot.

We’ve seen an increase in low sperm count, poor sperm quality, prostate and testicular cancers, and erectile dysfunction as environmental exposures increase and as men age. The effects of environmental pollution can also be seen yielding the similar results in the animal kingdom. For example, male fish living downstream from sewage treatment plants and pharmaceutical manufacturers have been shown to lose the ability to reproduce and even become female.

So what can men do to keep their free testosterone from declining? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post to find out. In the meantime, check out my post about how to reduce toxin and exo-estrogen exposures.

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