Posts have been few because I’ve been finishing my book, and the manuscript went out to an agent last Friday—w00t! Off for vacation. And what should greet me on the magazine rack at the airport but this week’s cover story of Time magazine: “Manopause?! Aging, Insecurity and the $2 Billion Testosterone Industry.”
Feeling flabby? Slower? A little less frisky? Millions of men with are turning to hormone replacement therapy to turn things around—even though a gradual decline in testosterone production is normal as men age. One reason is a 2800% increase in marketing dollars since 2009, but the biggie is “the fathomless fear and loathing among men staring time in the face,” writes Time editor-at-large David Von Drehle. Bellies balloon, aches come to stay, senses dull, and, he continues, “Most distressing for many men, one’s manhood itself changes personality. Once as eager as a Labrador puppy to jump up and play, more and more it resembles an old dog that would rather nap than fetch.”
Who wants to go to bed with a Labrador puppy? That’s less off-putting, though, than the picture Von Drehle paints of aging as betrayal. Eventually a fellow “comes to the grim conclusion that his body—this marvelous apparatus that he thought he knew so well–is actually out to get him . . . by killing itself.” If this is betrayal, where’s the treachery? The only loss is the illusion that time can be somehow be bought off, and that illusion is antithetical to aging well. Aging means living and living means aging, but immortality-chasing scenarios equate it with death. Ironically, in turning to untested testosterone shots, gels, skin patches, implants, and nasal sprays, men are running a massive and risky science experiment on themselves.
Data links use of the hormone to heart attacks, strokes, and other serious cardiovascular conditions, as well as to the possibility of increased cancer risk. All this is happening without FDA oversight, which approves testosterone drugs only for men with associated medical conditions and does not regulate the array of T-boosting supplements available from retailers like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe. “Given the unknowns of testosterone therapy, should aging men by the millions be juicing themselves with substances powerful enough to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame?” Von Drehle wonders. Good question. Remember when millions of menopausal women jumped on the hormone-replacement bandwagon when it was thought to ward off heart disease, osteoporosis, and possibly dementia, not to mention hot flashes? Then a large clinical trial in 2002 found the risks outweighed the benefits. Have we learned nothing?
There are healthy ways to remedy beer bellies and keep bodies strong. The way to address the “fathomless fear and loathing” is to become conscious of what aging actually involves. It’s easier to take a pill, just like it’s easier to go along with ageist stereotypes. Either way, the reckoning is inevitable. How much better for body and soul to enter into it sooner rather than later, and with as much grace as we can muster.