Firefighting is without a doubt one of the most stressful jobs on the planet, both mentally and physically. The high demands of the job leave career firefighters susceptible to a wide variety of health issues due to this constant exposure to stress.
While there are many health concerns this type of working environment can create and foster, one of the most overlooked and more dangerous issues is a lack of or a decline in testosterone in male firefighters. There has been extensive research on hormonal imbalance and the significant downstream impact Low T has on human organs and their processes.
Hypogonadism is the disease where a man’s body does not produce sufficient testosterone levels. More than 20 million men in the United States are believed to suffer from hypogonadism and Low T causes different symptoms at different ages. The physiological link between stress and testosterone is another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone, which increases sugar in the bloodstream. It communicates with your brain to help control mood, motivation, and fear, and alters the immune system. When stress is applied to the body, it produces cortisol.
Any type of Testosterone deficiency can lead to increased body fat, less muscle, and increased chance of disease. Clinically, low testosterone is most associated with increased visceral obesity, loss of muscle mass, fatigue, loss of bone strength, altered mood and low sex drive.
One study performed in the United Kingdom showed that men with heart disease die sooner if their testosterone levels are low. Another study found that low testosterone in men could increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Strenuous firefighting activity causes multiple changes in the cardiovascular, including sudden cardiac events, which are a leading cause of duty related death among firefighters, accounting for approximately 50% of line of duty deaths each year based on the National Fire Protection Association.
So what can we do?
A first step is to develop a basic medical screening program that includes a physical and simple blood draw. Another is to provide resources and education to our firefighters on what to analyze and look for in their own bodies. Cholesterol is usually the first thing people look at when talking about heart disease, but what about magnesium or vitamin D? Firefighters are often in hot environments, so it is safe to say that they could develop a magnesium deficiency, which is also linked to Low T.
These are real issues for people facing real life-and-death situations. These symptoms should not be taken lightly when there is so much on the line.
Here in North Carolina, there are several companies that are pursuing new medication or supplements to help with this problem.
If you know a fireman who may be suffering from problems like fatigue, decreased libido, difficulty concentrating, and declining strength, please encourage them to seek out resources and help. One strong recommendation and good first step is that all men get their testosterone levels checked during their annual physical.