Irritable Male Syndrome

Most of us know that our male friends can get quite cranky between meals because of a drop in blood sugar, but recent findings suggest that their irritability may actually be caused by a drop in testosterone.

Wondering why your man is crabby? It could be his hormones. Researchers at the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, recently found that men of any age can experience a decline in testosterone levels when under stress. Mood swings, dubbed "irritable male syndrome," may accompany this hormone drop with varying symptoms, including nervousness, lethargy, ill temper, and depression.

Researcher Gerald Lincoln first observed the syndrome in Soay sheep and other male mammals. After studying the behavior of eight rams, he found that during the autumn season the animals' testosterone levels soared, and they displayed aggression and interest in mating. In the winter, however, the rams' testosterone levels plummeted, and their mating performance fell. The rams also showed nervous and withdrawn behavior, and they struck out at each other unprovoked.

Lincoln concluded that although high testosterone levels traditionally are linked to aggressive behavior, the rams showed more likelihood to injure themselves and each other when their testosterone levels dropped. He also extrapolated that major stressors in men, such as bereavement, divorce, and life-threatening illnesses, significantly lower testosterone levels, and that this hormone drop could create behavior in men similar to that observed in the sheep (Reproduction, Fertility and Development, 2001, vol. 13).

Another study attests to the phenomenon. Larrian Gillespie, MD, retired urologist and author of The Gladiator Diet (Healthy Life Publications, 2001), found that men's hormones pulsate hourly and that dips in testosterone levels can occur any time in any male as a result of stress, environmental factors, and diet. The decline, then, can lead to mood swings.

In The Gladiator Diet, Gillespie suggests men keep hormonal mood swings in check by eating a diet that is 40 percent protein (but go easy on nonorganic steak and chicken, which tend to contain hormones), 35 percent low-glycemic carbs, and 25 percent fat (no more than 10 percent of which should be saturated fat). Gillespie suggests that men get a baseline testosterone reading at age 35 to assess later variations in levels.

—Kristine G. Merrill