How to Defy Aging

Humanity has long searched for the mythological so-called “Fountain of Youth.” There is likely not a single anti-aging magic bullet, but, thanks to mounting scientific data, we now know that hormones play a key role in the aging process.

Here, we’ll explore the many roles that hormones play in women’s health and how you can optimize your hormones to delay — and perhaps defy — the aging process long into life.

What are hormones and why do they matter for women’s health?

Hormones are specialized chemicals that originate in glands, then journey throughout the body to all the organs and tissues, where they perform critical signaling work. In total, there are more than 50 active hormones in the human body – each with a distinct role in promoting its healthy function.

To get an idea of just how important hormones are, they are responsible for the following everyday physiological processes in the body:

  • appetite control
  • growth
  • stress regulation
  • blood sugar management
  • the sleep/wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm)
  • sex drive and sexual function

… among many other functions in the body.

What happens when women’s hormones become unbalanced?

First, let’s survey a handful of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance in women:

  • fatigue
  • unwanted weight gain/sudden weight loss
  • muscle aches/tenderness/stiffness
  • muscle weakness
  • joint pain/stiffness/swelling
  • increased/decreased heart rate
  • depression
  • purple/pink stretch marks
  • intensified sensitivity to cold/heat
  • frequent urination
  • dry skin
  • thinning hair and/or fine, brittle hair
  • decreased sex drive
  • nervousness/anxiety/irritability
  • infertility

As you can see, hormone imbalances affect both mental and physical well-being, as well as a woman’s self-confidence, in myriad ways. Bear in mind that these are just a sampling of the many signs of a hormone imbalance in women.

Some hormone-related health conditions are more easily diagnosable than others. Unfortunately, because hormones impact nearly every physiological function, the symptoms of hormone imbalance or deficiency are often mistaken by healthcare providers for other conditions.

If you struggle with non-specific symptoms — such as chronic fatigue or lack of motivation/excitement to do things you used to love – and have tried conventional treatment options to no avail, you might be suffering from an untreated hormone deficiency. Lifestyle adjustments and/or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may provide relief.
Menopause: the elephant in the room
Far and away, the most common manifestation of hormone imbalance that women experience is menopause.

Most women begin to experience the initial signs of menopause around age 40-55, depending on factors like genetic and environmental influences.

Rarely, a woman may enter menopause as early as her 20s. Certain medical procedures such as bilateral oophorectomy (the removal of the uterus) may also trigger a form of early menopause called “surgical menopause.”

Menopause is driven by declines in estrogen levels, as illustrated graphically below in research published via Dermatology and Therapy:

Image credit: Edwin Lephart

Estrogen levels peak in a woman’s early twenties, stay elevated until her thirties, then decline sharply.

Menopause has important implications for women’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

A few of the many physical symptoms of menopause include:

  • Unwanted weight gain
  • Night sweats
  • “pins and needles” (paresthesia)
  • Hair loss
  • Breast tenderness
  • Heart palpitations (skipping a beat)
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dry skin
  • Hot flashes

The mental symptoms of estrogen include:

  • Dizziness
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Impaired memory
  • Panic attacks/anxiety

Finally, emotional symptoms associated with menopause are:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities

The gradual loss of estrogen seen in menopause impacts a woman’s health in such a broad manner because estrogen is the main female sex hormone. Estrogen receptors (ERs) are located extensively throughout the female body, including in the lungs, bones, brain kidneys, heart, lung, endothelium, and intestinal mucosa.

As such, the loss of estrogen during menopause has critical implications for:

  • Heart health
  • Brain health (cognition, working memory, mood, etc.)
  • Bone health (menopause causes the age-related loss of bone density called osteoporosis)

Given its widespread role in health management, replacing lost estrogen through natural interventions and possibly hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be hugely beneficial for women’s health.
HGH deficiency in women
Human growth hormone (HGH) is an often-overlooked pro-growth (anabolic) hormone produced in the tiny pituitary gland situated in the mid-brain region.

HGH, via interactions with growth hormone receptors located throughout the body, is responsible for:

  • Keeping metabolism (energy-processing) high
  • Strengthening the bones
  • Catalyzing protein synthesis to increase lean muscle mass
  • Optimizing body composition (the aesthetically pleasing distribution of fat)

Unfortunately, along with estrogen, women’s HGH levels decline over time. Clinical research published in Medicine shows that age-related HGH loss “may lead to depression in growth and weight gain, changes in body composition, and metabolic impairment. Studies have established links between obesity and cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia.”
Testosterone deficiency in women
When estrogen levels fall during menopause, the ovaries also stop producing testosterone. Contrary to popular belief, testosterone isn’t just for men; it’s also important for women’s health, although women typically have one-tenth the circulating testosterone as men. Testosterone is so prevalent in the female body, in fact, that pre-menopausal women actually have three times more testosterone in their blood supply than estrogen.

Anti-aging researchers have become increasingly interested in testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) for women experiencing menopause – not just to support a healthy libido, but also for optimizing mental health, supporting bone density and muscle mass, and maintaining high energy levels.

Via the British Journal of General Practice:

“Testosterone can be important in women for bone density and muscle mass, cognitive function, mood, sexual function, and energy… Numerous studies have shown that adding testosterone to hormonal therapy can improve sexual function and general wellbeing among women during their menopause.”

Can hormonal decline be prevented in women?

Anti-aging medicine is an exciting and quickly evolving field of research. One of the main areas of focus is on preventing, treating, and possibly reversing the hormonal changes that often accompany the aging process.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as the popular saying goes. If a woman can prevent her hormones from becoming unbalanced in the first place, maintaining optimal health as she ages is that much easier. To that end, doctors have pioneered a novel medical procedure that may delay menopause by up to 20 years.

Via The Guardian:

“Nine women have so far had the procedure to remove and freeze their ovarian tissue with a view to delaying the menopause when they are older. Doctors use keyhole surgery to remove a small piece of ovarian tissue, which is then sliced up and frozen to preserve it.
When the women enter menopause, potentially decades from now, the frozen tissue can be thawed out and grafted back into the body.”

The important caveat is that the science behind ovarian tissue freezing is still in its infancy, so until the procedure is further refined and tested, and made widely accessible, there are other strategies women can employ to stave off hormonal decline and achieve a fuller, more vibrant quality of life.

What strategies can a woman use to improve her hormone health?

Here, we’re going to explore proven methods women can use to optimize their hormone levels and reap the many health benefits that result from enhanced endocrine function.
Women’s hormone helper #1: Diet
Diet is an extremely important – depending on which expert you ask, maybe the most important – factor in health. This is equally true in the context of optimizing hormone health as it is for weight loss or any other purpose.

A good eating plan will not only help to balance the hormones but will also alleviate the severity of symptoms associated with unbalanced hormones.

For women experiencing menopause, here are foods you should definitely eat more of:

  • Dairy products. Menopausal women who consume more calcium-rich dairy generally enjoy higher bone density.
  • Healthy fats. In particular, women should concentrate on omega-3 fatty acids prevalent in fish as well as chia and hemp seeds.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. This category includes kale, bok choy, broccoli, and spinach. Research indicates that regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables may decrease risk of certain cancers by improving estrogen levels.
  • Phytoestrogen-rich foods. “Phytoestrogen” refers to a plant compound with a molecular makeup similar to estrogen that functions as estrogen once ingested. Phytoestrogen-rich foods include soy, flax seeds, peanuts, grapes, plums, and green and black tea.

And here are several types of food to avoid:

  • Processed foods with added sugar. High blood sugar, research shows, exacerbates the symptoms of menopause. Therefore, a low-carb diet is an excellent alternative to the standard American diet (SAD) which features high consumption of grains and processed sugars.
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Excessive sodium. According to research, higher consumption of salt correlates with reduced bone density in menopausal women.

Women’s hormone helper #2: Regular exercise
Any form of exercise, even just walking more, will help to balance the hormones. Hitting the gym or track will also trigger the release of endorphins – the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that help you relax and better manage stress.
Women’s hormone helper #3: Hormone replacement therapy
Rounding out the list of hormone optimization strategies for women here, we have hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – the practice of substituting exogenous, synthetic hormones to replace lost endogenous, natural hormones.

The most common forms of HRT for women include:

  • Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). Estrogen therapy in menopausal women produces substantial relief from menopause symptoms. It also helps to prevent complications associated with menopause such as osteoporosis.
  • Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). TRT is often prescribed for menopausal women as a complementary or alternative therapy to ERT.
  • HGH replacement therapy. Menopausal women receiving HGH replacement therapy reliably benefit from elevated HGH levels.