The Role Your Hormones Play in the Aging Process
Posted October 29, 2015
Hormones play a vital role throughout your life, from the angst-riddled urges of adolescence, to the miracle of reproduction, to how well body systems function as you age. Yes, hormones are even integral to how the human body handles the aging process. Why do hormones remain such a mystery? Most people can easily use the phrase, “You’re being hormonal!” but they lack a deeper understanding of how hormones function to fine tune internal systems to help keep everything in balance. Behind the scenes, endocrine glands produce these chemicals to regulate physical and behavioral changes, so they influence every aspect of life.
Hormones affect your body’s …
· Sleep patterns
· Sexual organs
· Metabolic function
· Thyroid function
Hormones and Aging
As patients age, some hormone levels drastically decrease and some slightly increase in production, but the human body becomes less responsive to hormonal changes, overall. Some scientists assert that hormonal supplements can slow the effects of aging. Before discussing that in detail, let’s look into how some of your body’s most important hormones shift during the aging process.
What they do:
Secretes steroid and adrenaline hormones. DHEA is one of the best-known products of the adrenal system. This steroid hormone serves to influence overall endocrine function. Cortisol, also produced by the adrenal glands, is known for its impact on stress response, but it also causes fluctuations in your endocrine system — your thyroids, kidneys and pancreas — if your levels spike or decrease.
Aldosterone is another hormone that originates in your adrenal glands; it influences water retention, kidney health and blood pressure.
As you age, these glands naturally churn out less and less DHEA. As a result, you feel drained and tired more often, and are more susceptible to illness. Studies have shown that normalized DHEA levels can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. When it comes to cortisol, seniors are more likely to produce excessive amounts that the body has more difficulty balancing, resulting in achy joints and a general feeling of malaise. The most significant dip — in aldosterone production — is associated with increased blood pressure and diminished kidney function.
Pituitary Glands and Thyroid
What they do:
The brain’s pituitary gland grows rapidly during adolescence until middle age, when it reaches its largest size. After that, the gland slowly begins to shrink. The front portion of this gland produces hormones that affect sexual development and hormones that nurture bone and muscle growth. The pituitary’s posterior lobe works with the hypothalamus to generate calming oxytocin and other hormones that control water retention and blood pressure levels. Thyroid hormones also depend on the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus to limit their production.
As you age your pituitary function decreases, and you may see a decrease in muscle and bone mass. The body is also more inclined to produce an excess or a shortage of thyroid hormones. When the body creates too little of the thyroid hormone, patients experience low cholesterol and a lag in energy. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, results in elevated cholesterol and blood pressure readings, along with irregular heart rates and difficulty sleeping.
Pancreas and Liver
What it does:
The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. In response, the liver makes glucagon to keep your blood sugar in balance.
As you age, your body’s responsiveness to insulin decreases, so your fasting blood glucose gets higher over time. This insulin resistance can result in Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with blindness, circulatory problems and peripheral neuropathy in aging adults.
Let’s not forget about melatonin, more commonly known as the sleep hormone. Most people start going to bed earlier and waking up earlier as they age. The reason for this? The human body generates less and less melatonin over the years, gradually changing your normal sleep schedule.
Hormones don’t just go away after adolescence and menopause. As you age, pay extra close attention to the hormonal fluctuations in your body. Hormonal supplements can help keep your bodily systems in balance. Remember that it’s best to consult a physician to see how you can keep your hormones in balance during your golden years.
Cheretta A Clerkley is a strategic marketing health care professional for Hormone Health Network, where she oversees patient education. These programs focus on a wide range of health topics, including the impact of aging on your hormones.