Health and Wellness: Monthly Male Syndrome
07-11-2006 09:57 AM
Health and Wellness: Monthly Male Syndrome
Health and Wellness: Monthly Male Syndrome
Everybody has hormones, so why not?
By Andrea Malouf
Do men have periods? Obviously not, considering they lack a uterus and the other pipes necessary for that monthly female event. But ask any woman if her male partner has monthly PMS and you'll get an emphatic yes. These women even have the days marked on the calendar when their hubbies start the classic bloating, sensitivity, cravings for strange food, and overall *****y behavior.
Now, ask a man if he has PMS and he'll most likely look at you as if you've been watching too much Oprah. But occasionally a few rare men will fess up and admit that during a certain time each month -- and for no good reason -- they feel out of sorts?maybe even a little blue or sensitive. Some even report to having changes in their facial hair or sensitivity to smells.
Maybe men do have PMS, which I like to call MMS (Monthly Male Syndrome). Or maybe these men are just trying to arm-wrestle their way into women's five-day license for a bad attitude, but it's doubtful -- I mean, when have you ever heard a man admit to sensitivity?
If men's hormones regularly run amok just as women's do, the underlying question still remains: If men can't have babies, why should they have to go through such a dastardly hormone change each month as women do when they have their periods? Though research on this possible male phenomenon is just in the preliminary stages, some compelling theories may open our minds -- and possibly our hearts -- to some of men and women's more subtle similarities.
The nose knows
A simple explanation, and one of the most logical for MMS, is that it's the woman's fault. I'm only partly joking. Some research suggests men might merely be picking up on their female partner's hormone cycle.
The possible culprit for the mirroring of hormones? Pheromones, our bodies' most powerful and yet subtle olfactory sensors. Women know that after living with or associating in close quarters with the same group of women, menstrual cycles will become aligned -- most often with that of the "Alpha" female.
But science is also looking into these subtle sensors between women and men. The phenomenon of couvades -- the pregnancy symptoms of morning sickness, food cravings and fatigue found in 65% of fathers-to-be -- could be hormones' attempt to make men more sympathetic to the vessel carrying their child. Similarly, a man's oestrogen rises just before his partner gives birth, making him more paternal.
Most recently, a study done by the Institute of Applied Psychology in Lisbon, Portugal, has found that men of childbearing age, particularly those in happy marriages or in the act of trying for a child, will often have testosterone peaks during their partner's ovulation cycle (for the obvious reason of procreation).
But a peak in testosterone would mean more energy, heightened libido and an overall good attitude -- not typical symptoms of MMS. So what happens to the energy-inducing testosterone when men are on their so-called "periods"?
Regardless of what books tell you, men and women aren't so different in their chemistry as one might suspect. "Both men and women make all the steroid hormones," says Dr. Todd Mangum of the Web of Life Wellness Center in SLC. "It's the amount that we make of each hormone that makes us unique." In fact, estradiol, one of the estrogens, is just one atom away from testosterone. "The difference between men and women is just the placement of one hydrogen," jokes Mangum.
Though research hasn't confirmed anything but daily fluctuations of a male cycle, Mangum thinks the monthly MMS theory makes sense. "Hormones are completely interconnected," says Mangum. "A change in one hormone can potentially affect other hormones."
So, a change in testosterone at one point in the month could create a ripple effect, meaning either more estrogen or less testosterone later, which might explain why men at times are found weeping during a Hallmark commercial while downing a box of Chocodiles. "It's a given that hormones affect mood and that low testosterone makes for grumpy old men," says Mangum. Hormones are cyclical, so whatever imbalance exists tends to repeat itself -- even a regular monthly hormone change in some men. Lunar or lunacy
Science may eventually prove hormonal mirroring to be hogwash (though I doubt it). Regardless, there's an even less researched but equally plausible explanation for MMS: the moon. Yes, that big bright thing in the night sky our culture has taken for granted except when it comes to space travel or bad love songs.
The moon is responsible for the flow of fluids -- ocean tides as well as individual body fluids. Specifically, the moon interacts with our bodies' gravity, subsequently affecting our internal physiological processes. Ask any obstetrician what happens to a pregnant patient during a full moon and most will tell you a bevy of moms go into labor -- whether it is their due date or not. "If the moon can pull half the earth's water, I'm sure it tugs on our cells," says Mangum. Personally, I don't see why the moon would exclude men in this tug.
The connection between the moon and hormone cycles is a given for Mangum. "It's not just coincidence that month, moon and menses are from the same root word," he says. Mangum pays careful attention to the moon's effects on female hormones and uses it as a guide for hormone replacement therapy. On nature's cycle, ovulation would and often does happen on the full moon. And menses happens at the new moon. Perhaps a similar hormone change is going on with men during lunar cycles.
Does that mean that tracking lunar cycles for male or female or will cure the uncomfortable side effects of MMS or PMS? Probably not. But becoming more in tune with our earthly cycle, just as the ebb and flow of the tides have done, could help us see that these hormone shifts can be positive instead of dreaded, possibly pushing us into a moment of personal reflection and creativity. Maybe ignoring or negatively stereotyping our hormone cycles is what has us out of sync with the earth in the first place.
Ignoring our body's link to earth cycles could undoubtedly affect our own, making us imbalanced and for sure cranky. Could the recent severity of PMS and the introduction of MMS merely be our bodies' way of making us take notice, of making us want to find our way back to our natural earth rhythm? Not sure a scientist will ever prove that one, but good to ponder anyway.
The domino effect
If MMS exists, then why haven't we heard about it until now? Why is it that we are just barely asking the questions of men's health that have proliferated in the science of women's health?
Certainly men's health has seemed taboo when topics leap outside of the popular obsession with muscular strength, image and sexual prowess. And yet, the complaints women have dealt with for decades -- hormone imbalances and menopause (commonly known as andropause for men) -- are becoming more acutely noticed in men. National Public Radio reported an increase in testosterone replacement therapy for a range of andropause-related problems in men (prostate, urinary difficulties, impotence and depression). But neither the moon's cycle nor men's relations with women have changed much over time. So why the sudden increase in men's health-related problems?
Mangum has no doubt that recent health problems are a direct result of our impact on the environment. "All the stuff we do in this day and age whacks our hormones out, especially the adrenals, which are particularly important for 'fight or flight,'" says Mangum. "We live almost in constant fight or flight with money issues, with code red, with code orange, etc. We're put on red alert 24 hours a day and our adrenals [the body's hormonal backup system] are taking the hit."
Globally we are experiencing an enormous number of hormonally related imbalances that are creating reproductive cancers (prostate, ovarian, breast, etc.) These hormonal imbalances are often linked to the overabundance of estrogen and estrogen-like compounds in our food and in synthetic chemicals we use at work, at play and at home.
"We are messing with our hormones, and the ones we are significantly messing with are estrogenic," explains Mangum. "The message of estrogen is to proliferate. The hormones prepare a woman's uterus for implantation and change her breast tissue. Yet, we are injecting cattle with fake estrogen, so when you eat beef or pork, you are getting synthetic estrogen. Then there are also xeno estrogens, foreign estrogen-like compounds that are in plastics, pesticides, etc. This is why the frogs are mutating, girls go into early puberty and so on."
Point is, maybe we are just becoming aware of these hormone imbalances, because we have become our own canaries in the coalmine. Everything we put into our bodies, whether food, air or water, affects our own body chemistry. Heightened PMS and even MMS, if it exists, could be nothing more than our own de-evolution due to bad choices.
Whether men have a regular monthly hormone imbalance may take science decades to prove. But just asking the question allows us to cut our fellas some slack at times. Let's face it, when a woman is *****y and claims PMS, everyone around her forgives her indiscretions and feeds her chocolate. When a man admits to unexplainable crankiness, we make him sleep on the sofa. Unfair! Maybe the best cure is to honor and accept what our bodies tell us -- male or female -- and then all go howl at the moon.
Andrea Malouf is the editor of Utah Bride & Groom magazine, a freelance writer, and a magazine writing instructor at the University of Utah.
07-11-2006 10:04 AM
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