Why Irritable Male Syndrome gives men man-periods
A few weeks ago I got an email from a listener asking if I’d ever heard of Irritable Male Syndrome.
I had not.
The email said:
I swear there is truth to the idea of a male “period.” I have personally noticed for years that around the time of a full moon, I experience things like being overly sensitive to both emotional and physical irritations. I experience bloating, have bad reactions to some foods and really crave chocolate.
Honestly, when I first read this email it really bugged me. A man period? Seriously? Now men want to appropriate our menstrual cycle? Can’t we just suffer through our periods in peace.
But I decided to skip the hate and investigate.
The science behind Irritable Male Syndrome
I called up the guy who emailed me. He’d like to remain anonymous, and chose to go by “Jay” because: “It’s kind of a stigma. It’s not a guy thing, right? It’s not manly.”
But does Irritable Male Syndrome actually exist? According to therapist Dr. Jed Diamond it does.
“One of the big changes that seems to happen for men at midlife is we become more irritable, more angry at times,” Diamond said. “In fact, what we found is that this really has, at its core, a lowering of testosterone which we found actually increases irritability in men and often causes problems in their relationships.”
Weill Cornell Medicine Urologist-in-Chief, Dr. Peter Schlegel, says it’s true. Some men can experience dips in testosterone that affect their mood and personality. But it’s not necessarily monthly, like a period.
“Frankly, men don’t usually have a month-by-month change in their hormones,” Dr. Schlegel said. “They have an almost doubling of their hormones day-by-day and subtle changes that occur seasonally. But it’s not a month-by-month process.”
But Jay says he tracked his symptoms and saw a monthly pattern, similar to his girlfriends. He says their cycles are actually synced up.
“You know, we are,” Jay said. “I know it’s not something they’ve studied, or something that’s supposed to happen. I am kind of an empathetic person. But yeah, we’re totally synced up and it can be kind of bad.”
Dr. Schlegel says Irritable Male Syndrome can be hard to diagnose.
“Most men don’t recognize that these changes that they notice, in terms of irritability, depression, etcetera, are related to hormones at all,” Schlegel said. “They just feel lousy and they don’t know why. Because obviously men don’t have their hormone levels checked through the day on a regular basis.”
He says men can be treated by taking a topical testosterone. And Dr. Diamond says diet and exercise can also make a difference.
“Many people that were on a low carbohydrate diet, not just the refined carbohydrates, but potatoes and cutting out rice and beans and so on … We found that when you actually cut down on carbohydrates, you also cut down on the serotonin levels in the brain — the feel-good chemical that allows us to feel comfort and joy. So when you cut down on those, you may inadvertently be adding irritability that you think is being caused by something other than diet. It turns out when we get people eating good carbohydrates again, their irritability starts to go away.”
Just like Jay wants to remain anonymous, I’m pretty sure most men wouldn’t want to associate with terms synonymous with Irritable Male Syndrome like “manopause” or “man period.”
“I tell men, you shouldn’t feel any worse about going through manopause than you would going through puberty,” Dr. Diamond said. “It’s a stage of life, we all go through it. But everyone can get help to get through it in a more positive way.”
Jay said his testosterone levels tested normal. So perhaps he doesn’t have IMS and he’s just a moody dude with a fierce monthly craving for pizza and chocolate.