Hormones That Decrease With Age and Your Options
By Lisa Wells, RN
Vladimir Dilman, Ph.D., developed The Neuroendocrine Theory of Aging. The neuroendocrine system is an extensive network of biochemicals. These biochemicals control the release of the body's hormones and other vital bodily elements.
The reason why hormones are so important is the fact that they control virtually every biological process in the body. They tell the cells what proteins to manufacture and tell the organs which functions to perform. When hormones decline less information is transmitted and so the body functions less efficiently.
Hormone production peaks in the early to mid 20's and then begins a slow decline. The effects of this decline are not often felt until we reach our 30's to 40's. By then hormone levels have usually declined to the point where our condition and function are noticeably altered.
The Issue With Modern Medical Training
In modern mainstream medicine endocrinologists are considered the specialists of hormone therapy. Volumes of scientific literature attest to the crucial role hormones play in the physiological and psychological processes that are required to maintain homeostasis in the body throughout the entire life cycle. However, traditional endocrinology focuses only on diseases related to individual hormones. Doctors are not trained and so do not focus on how hormones relate to wellness and disease prevention.
There is even controversy in modern medicine related to the use of various hormone therapies to support and maintain the aging patient. Although some doctors will prescribe hormones for menopause and andropause the general thinking of some in the medical community has been that decreasing hormones are a normal part of aging and so restoring them is not necessary.
The diagnosis is usually only made once the level drops below the huge range that modern mainstream medicine has decided is "normal for age", which is unfortunate in my opinion. Although some of their aging patients are having clear symptoms of insufficient hormone levels some physicians refuse to help these ailing patients because they barely fall within the wide range of within normal limits (WNL). Such patients may be missing out on therapy that could alleviate or at least improve their symptoms and health status.
We in anti-aging and functional medicine focus on keeping hormone levels optimum as age progresses in order to help prevent disease and maintain a high quality of life.
Hormones We Need Throughout Life
Human Growth Hormone: Released by the pituitary gland in the brain human growth hormone (HGH) is considered the hormone of youth. It is responsible for the rapid growth and development of children and is also responsible for their astounding healing powers. Once released by the pituitary gland it is quickly taken in by the liver prompting the liver to release the growth factor called IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that goes to the individual cells and prompts cell rejuvenation and tissue repair throughout the entire body. HGH and IGF-1 regulate the muscle/fat ratio by increasing lean muscle and decreasing fat. They also strengthen the cardiovascular and immune systems, improve enzyme production, enhance energy levels, strength and stamina, improve bone density, decrease cholesterol, enhance sexual function and libido, improve sleep, increase sense of well-being, and more.
Once adulthood is reached HGH becomes the repair and rejuvenation hormone. It works throughout life to help maintain brain function, muscle tone, bone strength, immune function, the integrity of the skin and hair, and in fact it plays a supportive role in about every system in the body.
Unfortunately, the body's production of HGH diminishes with age.
DHEA: Released by the adrenal glands and referred to as the "mother of all hormones" DHEA is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body. DHEA promotes the renewal and replacement of tissues and helps to maintain a healthy immune system. DHEA is also very active in the brain. It promotes neurotransmitter production and so is crucial for maintaining both short term and long term memory.
Another reason why DHEA is so important is the fact that it can be converted in the body into other important steroid hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.
DHEA also plays an important role in keeping cortisol, the body's stress hormone balanced. In the young and healthy these hormones are balanced. However, as age progresses DHEA decreases while cortisol tends to increase, especially if any stressors are involved. High cortisol and low DHEA are serious risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, other diseases, obesity, and accelerated aging.
Restoring low DHEA levels can have a positive effect on the body and can provide some relief to exhausted adrenal glands.
Pregnenolone: Secreted by the adrenal glands it is known as the "grandmother of all hormones". It is essential to the proper functioning of the body's many physiologic and metabolic functions. It is also an important precursor to important hormones such as DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, the estrogens, and progesterone.
Thyroid: The thyroid gland produces several hormones including T1, T2, T3, T4, and calcitonin. Triiodothyronine (T3) is the active form that enters the cell receptors. T3 is the body's regulator and thermostat. It controls energy metabolism, regulating how much energy is stored as fat and how much is released into the bloodstream for use.
Thyroid hormone regulates body temperature, sleep patterns, digestive function, and is essential to the body's ability to fight infections and even mutant cells via the immune system. It also plays an important role in maintaining healthy cerebral and cognitive function and mood. It is essential for a healthy heart as it strengthens contractions and plays a role in cholesterol balance.
Thyroid function tends to decrease with aging.
Testosterone: Made in the testes in men and the ovaries in women and made in the adrenal glands in both, testosterone (T) is the major reproductive hormone in men and it is also important to women. Physically testosterone is very important in the growth and repair of muscles and certain organs. With the decrease of T comes a decrease in lean muscle and it usually means an increase in body fat. Restoring testosterone to a more healthy level increases muscle and decreases fat, contributes to strength and stamina and enhances libido in both men and women. The male urinary and reproductive systems are also promoted by T.
Testosterone helps to protect the heart muscle and cardiovascular system by helping to keep cholesterol and blood pressure balanced. It also affects neurological function and mood and it fuels feelings of confidence, optimism, motivation, and aggressiveness. It can also provide a protective effect to the joints against the development of arthritis and help to sustain bone density.
Testosterone levels decrease with age. In men the progressive decrease of testosterone with age is called andropause. In women menopause also includes a decrease in T.
The Estrogens: Estrogen is the term commonly used, however, there are actually three estrogen hormones, called estradiol, estriol, and estrone, with estradiol being the main one. Made by the adrenal glands, ovaries, testes, liver, and fat cells the estrogens are considered female hormones but they are important for men also, although in a lesser amount than women.
Besides its effects on the female reproductive system estradiol promotes youthful cell behavior. It supports a wide range of tissues and organs. It is necessary for the optimal functioning of the heart, blood vessels, brain, liver, urinary tract, and bones. Estradiol helps to prevent heart disease, cerebral vascular accident (stroke), osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's. Cognitive activity, mood, and memory are also supported by estradiol. Lack of estradiol may cause dryness of the skin, eyes, and vagina.
Estrogen production decreases with age, with the end result being menopause in women, and the age and disease promoting effects that come with menopause.
Progesterone: Even though progesterone is considered a female hormone it is very important for males also. It is made by the ovaries in females and by the testes in males, and it is made by the adrenal glands, fat cells, and in the brain. In women it prepares the uterus for the fertilized ovum and maintains pregnancy.
Progesterone also helps to protect breast tissue by preventing excessive proliferation of cells thereby helping to protect women from breast and uterine cancer, fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis. It helps protect men from prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In men it can enhance testosterone by opposing estrogen and it is a powerful inhibitor of DHT as it helps to block testosterone conversion into DHT. In men it provides some of the same benefits as testosterone. Progesterone also helps to keep estrogen balanced in women and men.
In both males and females progesterone helps to protect the brain and helps to keep the bones strong by facilitating the deposition of calcium in the bone.
Progesterone decreases with age and decreases substantially in women with the onset of menopause.
Melatonin: A hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is the body's biological clock and melatonin plays a major role in the setting of this clock. Melatonin controls our sleep cycle and seasonal rhythms. In animals it controls mating and hibernation, and it is believed to help regulate the menstrual cycle in women.
Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants known. It fights cancer by acting as an intracellular antioxidant and is perhaps the only antioxidant that can penetrate every cell of the body. Melatonin also protects the immune system by fighting the effects of stress. It helps to counter the immune suppressing effects of cortisol.
In humans melatonin levels are highest in children and decrease with age. Lower levels of melatonin signal the immune system to begin shutting down and also signal the endocrine system to produce fewer reproductive hormones. Alas, once we are past the reproductive phase of life we see a drastic decrease in melatonin and this decrease triggers the body to begin breaking down altogether, and we know where that eventually leads.
Restoring Hormones For Better Health
Surely the fact that the body's hormones decrease with age is not good news. Especially once we know what happens to the body as the result of not having enough of these important substances. Luckily, each of the hormones I mentioned above can be improved and restored to a more youthful and healthy level.
There are basically three ways to improve hormone levels. We can take pharmaceutical doses of synthetic or bioidentical hormones, we can take bioidentical hormones in homeopathic form, or we can take nutrients and/or herbs that in certain situations can help to improve the body's own release of a specific hormone.
The first option is full hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Most replacement therapies require a prescription by a medical doctor but some hormones such as DHEA, melatonin, progesterone, and pregnenolone may be purchased as dietary supplements without requiring a prescription in some countries.
In the case of prescription HRT the physician may prescribe either a man-made (synthetic) or bioidentical hormone. Doctor's usually prescribe HRT with the intention that the patient will continue on the therapy for the remainder of their life. The reason is because hormone replacement therapy can cause the body to stop making its own hormone. This is why many view HRT as their last option.
Other issues regarding HRT are the risk factors and side effects that can occur, especially related to the synthetic estrogens and progestins. There are varying opinions among doctors as to whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
The second option involves taking hormones in homeopathic form. Homeopathy is the safest form of medicine known to man. Homeopathic products are not a full hormone replacement and so are not meant to provide all the hormone a person needs. For this reason they will not shut down the body's own release of hormones. They will provide a small amount of the hormone in homeopathic form, and also help the body to increase and balance its own release of that hormone.
The third option is taking nutrients and/or herbals to help the body produce more of its own hormone. For example, if a person doesn't have enough selenium they won't be able to convert the storage thyroid hormone T4 into active T3. Also, the adrenal glands require certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. A deficiency of these vitamins and minerals will decrease adrenal function and so can affect all the hormones made by the adrenals. Providing the body with the needed nutrients in situations like these can help to bring about needed improvements.
Although all the hormones mentioned above decrease with age, in my opinion there is no reason why we shouldn't try to prevent or at least delay the damaging effects of hormone deficiencies, if we can do it safely.
When having your blood or saliva levels checked please keep in mind there is a difference in the hormone level that is considered normal for your age and the level at which your body functions best at. Your doctor may tell you that you are fine, however, some doctors pay too much attention to lab values and not enough attention to patient symptoms and complaints.
The so-called normal lab ranges of most hormones are so wide that even though your level may fall within the low normal range, you would feel, look, and function so much better if your value was at the higher end of the scale.
Click to see just how wide the normal lab ranges for these hormones are!
There is much more information available about the body's many hormones. My recommendation is to educate yourself and speak with your doctor about beginning or advancing an effective anti-aging protocol.
Lastly, I would like to say that we usually know better than anyone when we are not feeling or functioning as well as we did in the past, and many times hormones are involved.
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