Late onset hypogonadism of men is not equivalent to menopause
Many men who reach middle-age start to experience symptoms that resemble those of menopause; reduced libido, lack of energy, weight gain, fatigue, depression and osteoporosis, to name a few.1-5 Therefore these conditions are frequently seen as being equivalent, and late onset hypogonadism has therefore been called "andropause", "male climacteric", "male menopause" or "MANopause".
However, this is very misleading.6 Here we will contrast the differences between late onset hypogonadism, also known as testosterone deficiency, and menopause, and explain why these condition should not be regarded as being equivalent.
What is known
Testosterone deficiency often manifests with symptoms in men that resemble those of menopausal women. This has given rise to the idea of "andropause", "male climacteric" and "male menopause". However, for several reasons, this parallel is fraught with misinformation and irrational logic that lacks a scientific base.
What this study adds
Hypogonadism, also known as testosterone deficiency, while common7, does not universally affect every man. It has been shown that testosterone levels display no decrease associated with age among men over 40 years of age who self-report very good or excellent health.8 This may indicate that a large part of the age-related decline in testosterone levels is due to accumulating age-related co-morbidities, rather than an age-specific phenomenon. This view is supported by data showing that besides age per se, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and blood cholesterol/lipid abnormalities are risk factors of incident hypogonadism.9 Thus, while menopause happens consistently in women between the ages of 45-55, and the median age for natural final menstrual period is 52 years10, hypogonadism in men can occur at any age because testosterone deficiency can be caused by several different factors.11,12 Therefore, the term "late onset hypogonadism" is inappropriate. The terms testosterone deficiency and hypogonadism are more accurate.
Male testosterone deficiency develops slower and more progressively over time, while menopause signifies a relatively abrupt cessation of estrogen production. In men, beginning in the third decade, testosterone levels start to decline gradually and progressively at a rate of approximately 1% per year.13-16
Equating late onset hypogonadism and menopause also disguises the facts that these phenomena are caused by different hormones, and that their respective deficiencies result in vastly different consequences. While it is hypothesized that estrogen deficiency in women may be protective against cancer17,18 and may increase longevity19, testosterone deficiency in men is associated with a myriad of detrimental health outcomes, including obesity, increased waist circumference, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, inflammation, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction (ED) and increased mortality.20 Testosterone deficiency in men may even be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.21,22 In addition, there are also indications that testosterone deficiency in men contributes to the gender gap in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.23 When it comes to the prostate, testosterone deficiency may actually, to the contrary of old dogma, have a negative impact on prostate health, as we have reported in a previous editorial "Testosterone and Prostate Cancer - a paradigm shift".
When it comes to the issue of treatment vs. non-treatment, a rapidly expanding body of evidence justifies treatment of hypogonadism with testosterone therapy.24-28 This is in stark contrast to menopause, whose treatment with estrogen replacement therapy (HRT) is controversial and produces variable results.29-33 In contrast, treatment of hypogonadism in men with testosterone therapy that achieves adequate testosterone levels and is of long enough duration to allow benefits to manifest34 improves symptoms and reduces risk of multiple chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, in the vast majority of men.24-28
An important reason to distinguish hypogonadism from menopause is because of concerns about HRT in postmenopausal women have been inappropriately extrapolated to men; "such extrapolation is not only inappropriate but it lacks any scientific evidence or validity - predicting the effects of testosterone replacement in hypogonadal men by relying on studies of estrogen (with or without progesterone) in postmenopausal women is baseless and should be condemned."35
Therefore, it is appropriate to conclude that testosterone treatment in hypogonadal men is far more compelling than estrogen treatment of postmenopausal women, is well backed up by solid scientific research and provides a timely message to people who still think that "andropause" or "male climacteric" should be approached like menopause.