It's not you, it's me.
No, I'm not breaking up with you. But I imagine quite a few of you have uttered the phrase a time or two in your lifetime in an effort to spare the feelings of the poor soul whose heart you were breaking (even if it was most definitely them!). If you are like me prior to balancing my hormones, and that phrase was to come out of your mouth now, it might actually be true!
Love and Hate of Aging
Getting older can be a beautiful thing. With age can come wisdom, experience, financial stability, grandchildren, emotional maturity, and let's not forget about the senior discounts and retirement that's right around the corner. With all of that positivity, get older sounds like a blast!
Once we look on the bright side and finally come to terms with aging and choose to embrace it, we are unfortunately often greeted with the negative side effects of aging that prevent us from fully enjoying our new lease on life. The constant fatigue, aches and pains, loss of lean muscle mass, gaining fat, developing wrinkles, and becoming less interested in sex are just a few common signs of getting older. Most just accept these as a part of life and make do the best they can. But what if you didn't have just to make do?
The Hormone Difference
It's not a coincidence that you start experiencing these symptoms as you get older. The difference this time compared to when you were in your 20s or 30s is your hormone levels. Many age-related changes in your hormone levels can help explain why you feel the way you do.
Hormones are special chemical messengers produced by various organs and glands that are part of the endocrine system. Organs and glands of the endocrine system secrete hormones to regulate and control multiple body functions. With age, the amount of some hormones produced can decrease, the rate at which organs produce hormones can fall, the metabolism or breakdown of hormones can slow, or the target tissue can become less sensitive to the hormone.
When these changes occur as you age, blood levels of some hormones increase, some decrease, and some are unchanged. This change in hormones happens to both men and women, although they may have some different symptoms.
Some common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in adult women include:
LOSS OF INTEREST IN SEX
IRREGULAR MENSTRUAL CYCLES
DARKENING OF SKIN
EXCESSIVE OR UNWANTED HAIR
Some common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in adult men include:
LOSS OF MUSCLE MASS
INCREASED CENTRAL BODY FAT
Many of these uncomfortable symptoms of hormone imbalance are from the age-related loss of sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). In women, the declining levels of estrogen and progesterone are what lead to menopause. In men, declining levels of testosterone can lead to andropause. These hormonal changes can significantly affect your physical and mental health and lead to decreased functional performance and reduced life span for both men and women.
Testosterone and Men
Low total testosterone levels in men older than 60 are associated with an increased occurrence of osteoporosis and increases in hip and nonvertebral fractures. A decline in muscle mass leads to decreased muscle strength. This decrease in strength precedes functional limitations, such as balance problems and risk for falls and injuries.
Testosterone influences more than just skeletal muscle, and deficiencies have been linked to premature death. Inadequate testosterone levels are associated with sexual disorders, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased fat in the abdominal area, sleep apnea, depression, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a decreased quality of life in aging men.
Testosterone and Women
Androgens are precursors for estrogen production and synthesis and play a vital role in the maturation processes of ovarian follicles in women. Even though women have 20 to 25 times less circulating concentrations of testosterone than men, it is an essential hormone for women.
The sudden and swift decline in testosterone levels plays a crucial role in aging women's morbidity and functional limitations. Low testosterone in women has been associated with cognitive and sexual function deficiencies, decreased lean body mass, increased bone loss and frailty, and emotional changes.
Estrogen and Men
The fat tissue and the adrenal glands can produce some estrogen in men. Estrogen is also produced through aromatization, where testosterone is converted into estrogen in the limbic system and brain tissues. Levels of estrogens and androgens decrease in men with age are inversely related to fracture risks.
Low estrogen levels in older men lead to osteoporosis and increased testosterone levels. Estrogen plays a crucial role in the metabolism of lipids and carbohydrates. Estrogen resistance has been linked to early heart plaque and associated increased risk of cardiovascular events.
Estrogen and Women
Estrogen is produced mainly from the ovaries in women. It promotes the development of female genital organs and features, helps control the menstrual cycle, and helps maintain pregnancy. Women have about four times the amount of estrogen as men, but during the first year of menopause, they lose on average 80% of their estrogen.
Estrogen plays a crucial role in regulating bone health and strength in aging women. The accelerated loss of estrogen as women age results in an accelerated decline in muscle mass and strength, which decreases function. Low estrogen concentrations are also correlated with an increased threat of cardiovascular events.
Progesterone plays a significant role in fertility and menstruation and thus essential for procreation. It is also a necessary precursor of all the sex hormones and contributes to many physiologic functions. Progesterone levels decrease as menopause approaches, with the level dropping to nearly zero at menopause.
Low progesterone levels are correlated with osteoporosis, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, and vaginal atrophy. When women stop making enough progesterone, they will often have irregular menstrual cycles, headaches, sudden mood changes, and insomnia.
A Few Others
Our bodies are amazing, even as they age. We produce 50 different hormones that control a number of functions throughout our body. While they are all important and unique in their own way, a few others take particular importance as we age.
Growth hormone, in adults, stimulates metabolism or the way food is broken down and turned into energy. Too little or too much growth hormone is associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and a shorter life span.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone made from cholesterol by your adrenal glands. Your body changes DHEA into testosterone and estrogen in both men and women, but the production of DHEA declines as we age. Over-exercise, insufficient calories, and excessive stress can also reduce levels prematurely.
T3 and T4 are the two main thyroid hormones. The thyroid plays a role in controlling body temperature, muscle strength, and metabolism. Making too much or too little will affect your weight, energy level, heart rate, and mood, among others.
Melatonin is a potent antioxidant and helps control your sleep/wake cycle. As your body produces melatonin, you get sleepier. The decline in melatonin levels as you age results in less sleep efficacy and may contribute to the prevalence or severity of some age-related illnesses.
Cortisol and other stress-related hormones are released when you under long-term or chronic stress. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with poor cognitive performance and can suppress the immune system. Chronic stress is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression.
Insulin is the hormone necessary to be able to use the glucose in your bloodstream correctly. When you do not make enough insulin, or the body can't use it properly, it results in diabetes. As you age, your body can become less sensitive to insulin, and insulin resistance can result.
A Happy Life
Some people are more sensitive to hormones than others, but we all depend on hormones to function. Changes in hormonal levels contribute to the unwanted side of aging. Maybe your coworker or spouse or kids really are being that irritating and causing you to be completely exhausted. Or, perhaps it could be that your hormones are not properly balanced, causing you to be irritable and tired. If it is not your hormones, well, that's a different blog, but if there is a chance it is, I have good news! Many of the symptoms of aging can be prevented or even reversed! That means you can live a happy life and actually enjoy getting older without the awful symptoms. Here are FIVE ways you can improve your hormone balance:
Eat A Balanced Diet
Foods high in natural healthy fats are crucial in your body's ability to produce and maintain a balance of hormones. The consumption of sufficient amounts of protein and fiber also trigger hormone production and appetite control.
Consistent exercise helps regulate the hormones that control your appetite. Regular exercise can reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity. It can also naturally boost levels of testosterone, growth hormone, and DHEA.
Stress leads to an increase in cortisol production which can contribute to things like obesity and cardiovascular risk. Managing stress through regular relaxation like listening to soothing music or meditation can help balance your hormones.
Get Enough Sleep
Hormone regulation throughout the day is thought to be dependent on some issues like the quality of sleep. Getting a total of 7-8 hours of sleep consistently can help regulate a healthy hormone balance.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Sometimes medical intervention is necessary to preserve and optimize the functionality of our body during the aging process. The use of bioidentical hormones structurally identical to the hormones we naturally produce is an effective way to optimize and maintain hormone levels.
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Stay tuned for more on hormone optimization.
Astrid M. Horstman, E. Lichar Dillon, Randall J. Urban, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, The Role of Androgens and Estrogens on Healthy Aging and Longevity, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 67, Issue 11, November 2012, Pages 1140–1152, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gls068
Bu B. Yeap, Hormones and health outcomes in aging men, Experimental Gerontology, Volume 48, Issue 7, 2013, Pages 677-681, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2012.07.012.
Kische, Hanna, et al. "Clinical correlates of sex hormones in women: The study of health in Pomerania." Metabolism 65.9 (2016): 1286-1296.National Academies Press.