It is well-established that men who cooperate good-naturedly with female partners in raising and nurturing children often have lower levels of testosterone than their more aggressive and occasionally grumpy counterparts. Now a new study by two anthropologists at the University of Notre Dame examines the interaction of testosterone and men’s relationships outside of the nuclear family.
The new study focused on a large, representative sample of aging U.S. men and the ways their testosterone varies when they have emotionally supportive relationships with their spouses, relatives, friends, and coworkers. The findings also suggest that men might want to think twice before taking testosterone supplements as they get older, as the lower testosterone levels that come with age might offer relationship benefits.
“Compared to other U.S. men, fathers and married men often have lower testosterone,” said Dr. Lee T. Gettler, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Notre Dame’s Hormones, Health, and Human Behavior Laboratory.
“We think this helps them be more nurturing. We are the first to show that this also occurs with other social relationships. Our results show that when older men have emotionally supportive relationships with their siblings, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, they also have lower testosterone.”
So not only spouses, but also other relatives, good friends, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow church members can play a role, suggests Gettler and Dr. Rahul C. Oka, Ford Family Assistant Professor of Anthropology, in an article forthcoming in the journal Hormones and Behavior.
“We know that men and women with social support have much better health, overall, while testosterone affects risks for depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and some cancers. We hope our findings, connecting these two areas, help stimulate new conversations about social support, biology, and well-being,” said Getttler.
“Most of us have probably seen the TV commercials promoting testosterone as a remedy for symptoms of aging or ‘manopause.’ Our findings suggest that the social side effects of these testosterone supplements in older men should be carefully studied. While testosterone does go down with age, the potential social benefits that can accompany lower testosterone suggest it is not all doom and gloom.”
Other experts have expressed concern over the growing trend of testosterone supplementation as well. In an earlier study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, that involved more than 10 million men ages 40 and over, researchers found that the use of testosterone therapy had increased threefold in the decade between 2001 and 2011.
The researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston pointed out that the development of new drugs, particularly topical gels, are most likely playing a role in this trend.
Source: University of Notre Dame