Hormones and Aging in Men and Women
   by James Occhiogrosso, N.D.


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Hormones circulate through the body by means of the bloodstream.  They are the chemical messengers of the body and produce powerful effects on virtually every organ they encounter.  Their effects are profound and range from regulating heart rate, body temperature and blood chemistry to generating sexual desire. They control almost every aspect of your existence, but in many cases, the medical community ignores testing and balancing them to biological normal levels, especially for men.

In both men and women, aging causes hormone levels to change, resulting in various problems from hot flashes and night sweats in women to erectile dysfunction (ED) and prostate problems in men. Compounding the normal changes due to aging, nutritional requirements are harder to meet without supplementation due to a slowdown in the digestive apparatus. Thus, a plethora of conditions combine to cause an aging man or women to start to feel the ravages of hormone imbalances.

Aside from normal aging, there are also a number of environmental problems that cause hormonal problems. The most serious of these is the estrogenic effects of various plastics in the environment.  For example, high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) can alter male hormones producing various degrees of sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction. [1] The estrogenic effects of BPA and other plastics can also alter the hormone balance of women, exacerbating the symptoms of menopause and causing loss of libido.

In addition, older adults tend to use more pharmaceutical drugs. While these medications sometimes help reduce various symptoms, no medication actually cures an illness or totally solves a problem. Only the body can do that. One result of using more pharmaceutical products as we age is problems that are linked directly to the use of a drug, like erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and depression. It is well known that antidepressants as well as medications for hypertension can cause a loss of libido, but few men are aware that their ED might be caused by blood pressure medication prescribed by their doctor. [2]

Obesity is another problem.  According to the latest statistics, more than 2/3 of the population is overweight, and at least 1/3 is obese.  This excess weight, even in those that are moderately overweight is a major contribution to hormone imbalances.  Estrogen—an anti-androgen—is stored in fat tissue and also produced by fat tissue.  High levels cause more storage and more production. Thus, it is a vicious cycle.  Excess estrogen in the body is stored in fat tissue and excess fat tissue produces estrogen. For overweight women, this results in a condition known as estrogen dominance, marked by extreme discomfort during the menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding, cramping and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).  Heavier people, especially men, tend to be high in an enzyme (aromatase) that converts testosterone to estrogen.  Thus, overweight or obese adults lose testosterone and gain estrogen, and are often subject to symptoms like loss of libido, erectile dysfunction and other various sexual and emotional dysfunction. [3]  A randomized trial over two years of 110 obese men, aged 35 to 55 years with erectile dysfunction found that a 10% weight loss resulted in a statistically significant improvement in sexual function for more than one-third of the men. [4]

Other factors are low nutrient levels, poor diet, insufficient sleep, and excess stress. All cause serious hormone imbalances.  The situation is similar in both men and women.  Simply losing some weight can go a long way to improving health and hormone balance.  Many studies have also shown that a weight loss of 5-10% in an obese adult can help lower excess estrogen, increase testosterone, and resolve many sexual dysfunction problems.

Menopause, and the male equivalent, andropause, are common triggers for osteoporosis in aging men and women. In women, it is primarily a decrease in significant decrease in progesterone as well as estrogen that causes osteoporosis. In men, it is more often related to a drop in testosterone and progesterone levels.  Many people with low testosterone levels, particularly men, may incur depression or other cognitive symptoms. A recent study found that men with mild Alzheimer’s disease incurred significant improvements in quality of life, mood, behavior and psychological health as their testosterone levels were increased.  [5]

Hormone imbalances can come from many sources.  Normal aging is responsible for minor imbalances, but the more critical ones are often due to nutritional deficiencies and lifestyle issues.  Many aging adults are reluctant to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Some do not like taking any pills at all, and others believe the long-held but erroneous view that all needed nutrients can be obtained from the food they eat. While a young person that follows an ideal diet may get most of the nutrients he needs from food, it is extremely rare for an aging adult to avoid nutritional deficiencies without supplementation, regardless of diet.

As we age, stomach acids tend to decrease making some nutrients more difficult to assimilate.  This alone increases the risk for older adults to have nutritional deficiencies. Adding to this is the fact that many older adults tend to eat less, often opt for easy to prepare meals with limited nutritional value, and may be living on a restricted budget with little room for the cost of food supplements. Nutritional deficiencies in aging adults often become the rule rather than the exception. These deficiencies affect all of the body systems and are particularly critical for hormone balance, including thyroid hormones. Imbalances in one area are frequently reflected in another.

Thus, for both men and women, balancing hormone levels by adjusting testosterone to estrogen to progesterone to DHEA to their biological normal, whether it is by diet or lifestyle changes, nutritional supplementation, or bio-identical hormone replacement can go a long way to improving one’s health.

Testing Your Hormones

Correcting hormone balances involves first determining what the imbalances are with a saliva hormone test.  Once a baseline is established, it is necessary to identify and eliminate as many of the causative factors as possible.  It is especially important to measure hormone levels prior to implementing a program to rebalance them.  Testing should occur before you start any program to balance your hormones and the test should be repeated at four to six month intervals.

The best way to test your hormones is do this is with a complete hormone panel that measures critical free hormones appropriate for your sex and age.  Establishing a record over a period of time also allows you to monitor and adjust your progress to best enhance your overall health.  Excessive supplementation can cause serious problems, and insufficient supplementation will not be effective.

Correcting Imbalances

Once you know where the imbalances are, you can start a program to address them.  The best way to do this is to consult with a professional that is experienced in hormone balancing.  Some balancing might be easy to do with dietary or lifestyle changes, but problems that are more serious might need to be addressed by using bio-identical hormone creams. All hormones are interdependent and improperly supplementing in one area can cause an out of balance condition in another.  Thus, it is imperative to work with someone with extensive experience in balancing hormones.   

Summary

A healthy body will always try to maintain a constant balance of its hormone levels at normal levels.  Unfortunately, nutritional deficiencies, lifestyle, many medications, and the process of aging all contribute to hormone deficiencies. Restoring your hormone levels to their biological norm can be very rewarding in terms of how you feel and for your overall health.

Low testosterone, progesterone or DHEA can cause a man or woman to lose the desire or ability for sex.  Low DHEA can also cause skin problems and fat accumulation around the abdomen. Out of balance hormones increase your risk for contracting many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, as well as reducing your overall health and vitality.  Just remember that it is critical to test your hormone levels before starting a supplementing program and at regular intervals thereafter.  Also, remember that hormones are very powerful, and a little goes a long way.  More is definitely not better—and excessive supplementation can damage, rather than improve, your health.

References


[1] Occupational exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) and the risk of self-reported male sexual dysfunction. Hum Reprod. 2010 Feb;25(2):519-27. Epub 2009 Nov 10.

[2] Polypharmacy Linked to Erectile Dysfunction, Medscape Medical News, November 15, 2011

[4] Effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in obese men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004 Jun 23;291(24):2978-84. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213209

[5] University of California - Los Angeles,  Alzheimer Patients Treated With Testosterone In UCLA-led Study Show Improved Quality Of Life. ScienceDaily. 2006, January 10, 2006.


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