Have you ever wondered how you could be affected by how your hormones change as you age? Chances are, if you’re young and fit, the thought hasn’t crossed your mind. Yet!
But if you’ve started to notice changes to your physique, your first thought was probably something like “Noooo!”, followed closely by, “How do I stop this?!”
That was my process, anyway, when I first saw the crow’s feet around my eyes and noticed my belly wasn’t staying flat like it used to. Add to that the gray hairs, the loosening skin and the loss of muscle tone, and it’s been slowly dawning on me that getting older really requires a lot of courage and acceptance.
But do we have to accept the gradual decline of our health and looks or can we take steps to reduce, or maybe even reverse, some of the aging process?
We go into detail about the whys and the hows of aging in our post on Understanding Why and How You Age, so if you haven’t read it through yet, check it out for some gems on how aging happens. Here we’re going to look at hormonal changes in old age that affect your health and vitality.
I find hormones fascinating because they’re virtually invisible. Their entire life cycle occurs inside your body without any conscious effort from you. They’re created, used and destroyed on a daily basis, affecting your health profoundly. Yet, you’re unlikely to be aware of them at all, unless something is going wrong.
What Do Hormones Do in Your Body?
Hormones are the messengers of your metabolism. They carry instructions from your brain to your organs and then back from your organs to your brain. They’re responsible for maintaining your regular patterns of hunger, sleep, energy and mood. Hormones keep your body healthy by controlling the rate at which new cells grow and by directing your body systems to work in harmony.
When it comes to aging (or not), your hormones play an important part. In fact, nearly all of the around 50 hormones your body makes either naturally increase or decrease as you age. But there are three specific hormones that have more impact than any others when it comes to how well you age. These are growth hormone in both men and women, testosterone in men and estrogen in women. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Growth Hormone in Adults
Growth hormone does exactly what it sounds like it should. It stimulates growth and regeneration in your cells, organs, muscles and bones. When you’re a teenager, growth hormone works in combination with your sex hormones to transform your body from that of a child to an adult. It’s an anabolic hormone, which means it encourages protein synthesis and the building of new body tissues.
Once you get past your teenage years, growth hormone is present in a moderate amount for the duration of your adult life.
Growth hormone contributes to the following vital processes in adulthood:
- Muscle mass
- Weight control
- Bone health
- Sleep cycles
Growth Hormone and Aging
Unfortunately, growth hormone starts to gradually decline around age 20, and drops sharply after age 70. This can lead to a loss of muscle mass, uncontrollable weight gain, brittle bones and trouble sleeping. The name given to this cluster of changes that occur in aging bodies is somatopause. It affects both men and women.
If you think of a really old person who has lost a lot of their muscle tone and looks generally frail, that’s the extreme picture of somatopause. Of course, you don’t suddenly get old, the decline in growth hormone production is gradual and noticeable from around age 40 onwards.
Testosterone in Men
Testosterone in men causes their masculinization at puberty and during their teenage years. It’s responsible for sexual development and sex drive, but it also builds muscle and stimulates bone growth. Testosterone defines men by increasing their physical strength, size and energy.
In adults, this important hormone maintains many functions of youthfulness and vitality. So, it’s no coincidence that many signs of aging are also signs of low testosterone.
Here are some everyday processes that rely on healthy testosterone balance in men and suffer as men age:
- Muscle tone
- Energy levels
- Mental focus
- Good mood balance
- Healthy bone density
- Sex drive
- Sexual function
Testosterone and Aging
Have you heard of andropause? It’s the result of declining testosterone in men. For some men it’s hardly noticeable, but for others it can be just as life-changing as menopause is for women. This is why it’s often called “male menopause”.
Sometimes andropause is described as testosterone levels declining naturally in men over the age of 40 years. But some studies suggest that declining testosterone in men is due to unhealthy lifestyle and diet choices, rather than aging. This means it’s not inevitable and may be preventable. The implications of this are huge and people are now looking for natural and pharmaceutical treatments that can maintain healthy, youthful testosterone levels in men of all ages. Medicinal mushrooms and traditional Chinese herbs have shown particular promise.
Estrogen in Women
Estrogen in women plays a similar role to testosterone in men. During puberty and teenage years, it triggers feminization, broadening the hips and controlling where fat is deposited, creating a curvy adult body that’s capable of bearing children.
It also controls other defining aspects of being female such as reduced body hair growth and a finer frame than males have.
As with testosterone in men, estrogen in women controls far more than just reproductive function. Here are some everyday processes that rely on healthy estrogen balance in women:
- Youthful skin
- Good mood balance
- Maintaining bone density
- Cholesterol balance
- Fat distribution
- Body temperature
- Reproductive health
Estrogen and Aging
Menopause is one of the most well understood hormonal changes that happen as people age. This is because it has very obvious symptoms and is quite often a rough transition for women. So, there’s been a lot of research into finding treatments that can reduce symptoms. There are many medicinal herbs that can help with this, including licorice, ginger and turmeric.
Estrogen levels don’t always decline smoothly and there can be sudden surges of reproductive hormones, causing body temperature, mood, energy levels and appetite to fluctuate wildly. Women who have gone through menopause live with a permanent estrogen deficiency, compared to their pre-menopausla bodies.
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Take Home Message
Hormones play a big part in maintaining your health and keeping you young and fit. There are over 50 different hormones in your body, but only a few of them really impact how you age. The most influential hormones in aging are growth hormone, testosterone, and estrogen.
Growth hormone is important in men and women for maintaining muscle mass, keeping your bones supple and strong, keeping you slim, and making you sure you sleep regularly. Testosterone works to keep men energetic, mentally sharp, and physically strong with a healthy sex drive. Estrogen keeps women’s skin supple and reduces their body hair. It controls their fat distribution and maintains their reproductive health.
As these three hormones decline, the processes they are responsible for decline with them, and the function of your whole body suffers.