The Male Hormonal Cycle
The female hormonal cycle is a function of a highly evolved chemical feedback loop between the pituitary gland and the ovaries and uterus. If conception does not occur after ovulation, 14 days later, the uterus ‘sheds’ its lining in the form of a period, and a new cycle starts all over again. This cycle lasts on average 28 to 30 days. Females are responsible for continuing the human species. Females have very high concentrations of ESTROGEN AND PROGESTERONE. Females have TESTOSTERONE too, but the average amount is 10 x less than that found in men.
The hormone fluctuations in women are vertiginous. Plotted on a graph they resemble a roller coaster. For men, we all know this is NOT the case. We all know that MEN DON’T HAVE PERIODS, but keep in mind that hormones are messengers and work on feedback loops that are dynamic. In men, hormones, specifically that of testosterone, need to follow a rhythm for proper feedback to occur. Patterns emerge, manifesting these changes in relative blood concentrations that have been regularly measured. Given that men do not have a uterus, the signs of any kind of cycle are very subtle. Men are not usually taught to understand these signs and therefore go unnoticed.
For men, the hormone cycle mainly relates to one hormone: TESTOSTERONE. Testosterone in men follows a circadian rhythm – highest in the morning, lowest at bedtime, hence men’s propensity for morning erections. This makes it much simpler. So instead of a 1 month cycle, men have a 24 hr cycle.
The process breaks down like this: The pituitary gland in men releases follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) in response to low levels of serum testosterone. FSH stimulates the formation of sperm (Sertoli cells), and LH stimulates the formation of testosterone (Interstitial cells). When the testosterone inventories are high enough, the pituitary quiets down and serum concentration gradually decreases until the whole process begins again, sometime in the early hours of the morning the following day. The circadian testosterone cycle has been well studied and verified.
Throughout history there have been various attempts to establish the existence of a male cycle. The late decades of the 19th century a number of authors (Gall, Stephenson and Campbell) tried to find evidence for monthly fluctuations in mood, energy and sex drive. During the low period of the cycle, men were reported to feel apathetic and indifferent. During the high period they reported more energy, a greater sense of well-being, and lower body weight.
It is probably not coincidental that all these symptoms have been associated with serum levels of testosterone. During periods of low serum testosterone men report feeling apathetic and indifferent. During periods of high serum testosterone they report more energy, a greater sense of well-being, and lower body weight.
Testosterone levels are notoriously difficult to calibrate and standardize because they're often dependent on the individual’s psychological state, which in turn is largely a function of circumstance. For example, leaders of every kind (tribal, political, business) have higher relative levels of serum testosterone. Levels drop sharply in men who lose their jobs or watch their teams lose. And that's not just in men. Women in high level corporate positions have higher levels of testosterone than their sisters in less driven professions. Given the sensitivity of testosterone to life's ups and downs, it's easy to see how a discernable and very real cyclical pattern might get lost in the background noise.
So… I believe that TESTOSTERONE is a very powerful hormone and in men, it exerts a significant influence on almost every cell of their body. When levels are high there is significant evidence of not only physical changes but also emotional and psychological effects. The lack of testosterone therefore may be quite evident to a man and may have dismal consequences to his health, thus the emergence of millions of supplements, potions and substances with the hopes to replace or enhance this hormone's actions.
Balance is the key word…. Too much of a good thing can be very very bad….. Not enough is equally a pretty serious problem… But…. Who is to say what enough is?
If you think you may have a problem don’t hesitate to contact your physician. Testosterone levels are at their peak in the morning. Get a blood test fasting and have your total and free testosterone measured.
Margarita Ochoa-Maya, MD, CDE
Endocrinology and Metabolism
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