Optimizing Your Hormones Is a Critical Anti-Aging Health Strategy
If you’re not optimizing your hormones, you’re not optimizing your health. Hormones play key roles in virtually all physiological functions in the body.
When hormones are working properly (and, equally importantly, in the right balance), you’re feeling energized, enthusiastic, clear-headed, and virile. When the hormones are unbalanced, or you have a diagnosable deficiency in one or more hormones, your physical and mental health suffers.
Let’s explore why optimizing your hormones should be the #1 tool in your anti-aging toolkit.
What hormones should you be most concerned about?
There’s no such thing as an unimportant hormone – they all matter. However, deficiencies in certain hormones are more common than others. Here are the most common hormone deficiencies for both men and women.
Low testosterone for men: a silent epidemic
Testosterone and fertility levels in men are at an all-time low.
Research indicates massive, generational declines in total testosterone counts in men, including this study published in the Yale School of Medicine in 2020 and this study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, in which researchers observed “a substantial, and as yet unrecognized, age-independent population-level decrease in T in American men, potentially attributable to birth cohort differences or to health or environmental effects not captured in observed data.”
As the researchers in the above-cited Yale study explained, “lower values of testosterone have been associated with increased comorbidities and an increase risk for all-cause mortality. This decline specifically, in these young adult men, with increased obesity may lead to an increase in precocious cancer.”
Low testosterone levels in men not only impair quality of life; they also lead to premature death.
Fortunately, low testosterone can be successfully reversed through testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which involves the supplementation of synthetic testosterone. Your body recognizes it as actual, endogenous testosterone. Accordingly, numerous health benefits ensue, including:
- Improved mental health (lifted depression and anxiety)
- Increased exercise capacity
- Muscle development
- Bone strengthening
- Better mood
- Restored libido (sex drive)
- Stiffer, longer-lasting erections
Most men think of testosterone only in terms of sexual performance. But as explained in the Annual Review of Medicine, the benefits of TRT extend well beyond treating erectile dysfunction:
“Testosterone treatment of older men with low testosterone levels improves overall sexual activity, sexual desire, and erectile function; improves areal and volumetric bone density, as well as estimated bone strength in the spine and the hip; corrects unexplained anemia of aging; increases skeletal muscle mass, strength and power, self-reported mobility, and some measures of physical function; and modestly improves depressive symptoms.”
Testosterone owes its widespread efficacy to the fact that androgen receptors (ARs) that interact with testosterone are located in every major tissue and organ in the body.
Low estrogen in women: the cause of menopause symptoms
Estrogen is the dominant sex hormone in women. Most (but not all) women under 40 have sufficient estrogen levels. However, estrogen levels decline precipitously once a woman enters menopause in her 40s or 50s. Menopause is the most common cause of low estrogen.
Other causes of low estrogen may include radiation therapy or surgical removal of the ovaries.
The importance of estrogen extends well beyond its role in regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive health. Estrogen is also implicated in the appearance, structure, and function of:
- The heart and blood vessels
- The bones
- The hair, skin, and nails
- The brain
- Mucuous membranes
- The breasts
As any woman who has experienced menopause can confirm, low estrogen levels wreak havoc on a woman’s health. The most noticeable symptoms of low estrogen include:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Period irregularities
- Urinary tract infections
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty maintaining focus
Aside from the ovaries, problems with other organs and glands of the endocrine system can also negatively impact estrogen levels. For instance, pituitary gland dysfunction (termed hypopituitarism) can trigger estrogen deficiency. We’ll discuss the issue of interconnected hormones and their impacts on overall health coming up in the section titled “feedback loops and why they matter.”
Luckily, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogen is proven to effectively and safely improve estrogen levels in women and alleviate their symptoms.
Your doctor might also recommend “combination therapy,” which includes estrogen as well as progestin, a synthetic form of another important female sex hormone called progesterone.
Human growth hormone (HGH) deficiency
In the previous section, we touched on the pituitary gland – a small structure in the midbrain region – and its role in hormone health. The main hormone that the pituitary gland regulates is called human growth hormone (HGH).
HGH is responsible for a bevy of physiological functions, such as:
- Stimulating protein synthesis for lean muscle development
- Fortifying bone strength
- Regulating metabolism (fat burning and energy levels)
- Preventing atherosclerosis (the buildup of deposits in the blood vessels that cause heart disease)
- Metabolizing dietary nutrients
Another critical anabolic (growth-promoting) hormone released by the liver, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) also depends on HGH signaling. If HGH counts drop, so do IGF-1 levels – bad news for your health.
Contrary to popular belief, growth hormone is important throughout the lifespan, not just for kids. The symptoms of adult-onset HGH deficiency, also called growth hormone deficiency (GHD) include:
- Low energy
- Mental health challenges
- Muscle loss
- Weakened bones
- Accumulation of body fat around the midsection (called visceral fat)
- Impaired metabolism, potentially leading to type II diabetes
In combination with anaerobic exercise and diet optimization, HGH replacement therapy with a synthetic form of growth hormone called somatropin is shown to safely boost HGH levels and treat symptoms associated with GHD.
Feedback loops and why they matter
Each hormone lives not in a vacuum but in a complex, constantly adjusting interplay with other hormones in the body. This phenomenon is called a “feedback loop.”
Feedback loops function as metaphorical thermostats, “turning up” or “turning” down hormone secretion based on the detection of other hormones in the blood.
Take, as an example of one among many feedback loops in humans, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis, otherwise known as the HPG axis. Along the HPG axis, the levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone are all interdependent.
What that means is that if hormone levels go haywire elsewhere in the axis, your testosterone levels can plummet (bad news for men!) regardless of how well your testes might be functioning. If part of the machine breaks down, it all does.
This illustrates the importance of achieving holistic hormone health. Beyond optimizing the raw count of any individual hormone, achieving balance among the hormones is the goal.
Anti-aging hormones in the treatment of chronic illness
Rates of chronic illness in the modern world are at an all-time high. According to the US Centers For Disease Control (CDC), four in ten Americans have an unresolved chronic illness.
While modern medicine has advanced impressively in the treatment of acute illnesses such as pathogenic infection, it lags behind in the treatment of chronic illness.
If you’ve broken your leg and visit the ER anywhere in the United States, you’re sure to get world-class care. But if you’ve got a chronic health condition such as diabetes or an autoimmune disease, your doctor has a more limited set of tools.
We know definitively now that hormone imbalances play a key role in the aging process. Put simply, optimal hormone levels equal longer lifespan and higher quality of life.
Accordingly, hormone replacement therapy is one anti-aging tool to prevent chronic illness that too often goes unused. Increasingly, researchers recognize the powerful potential that hormone optimization has to combat conditions and symptoms associated with aging. For instance, research published in The Journals of Gerontology indicates the utility of HRT for such anti-aging purposes:
“Deficiencies in multiple anabolic hormones have been shown to predict health status and longevity in older persons. Thus, consideration should be given as to whether targeted hormone replacement therapies may prove effective at treating clinical conditions, such as age-related sarcopenia, cancer cachexia, and/or acute or chronic illnesses. If initiated carefully in the appropriate clinical population, hormone replacement therapies in men and women may prevent and reverse muscle and bone loss and functional declines and perhaps promote healthy aging and longevity.”
What are the best ways to optimize your hormones?
So far we’ve discussed the importance of hormones and the benefits of hormone optimization for health and longevity, but how does one best go about accomplishing that objective?
Here are a few key ways to get your hormones into the target range and keep them there:
- Diet. Your ideal hormone-balancing diet will depend on your individual hormone profile, underlying health conditions, and goals. As a general rule, though, best practice is to avoid processed foods of any kind, dairy, seed oils, and excess added sugars. Also limit alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Exercise. High-intensity exercise programs like HIIT training are the best for hormone balance, but any sort of regular movement is beneficial for your hormones.
- Adequate sleep. Inadequate sleep negatively impacts hormones. Aim for 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep nightly.
- Stress reduction. Stress triggers excess cortisol release which causes a multitude of downstream hormonal impacts. Yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation are excellent stress-reduction practices to use any time you get stressed.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Because of the relative cost of his intervention, many patients turn to HRT as a last resort when diet, sleep, and exercise fail to produce substantial results.
In the case of certain physiological causes of hormone imbalance, such as menopause in women, HRT is the only effective means to achieve an ideal hormone profile.