When we think of aging, we tend to think of wrinkles, sagging skin, thinning hair, weight gain and just overall general malaise. While all of these things can and do happen for some as a result of getting older, we have to consider the role that hormones play when it comes to aging.
How Hormones Affect Aging
Men experience aging differently than women do. When men age, their testosterone levels diminish. The decrease in testosterone affects muscle mass, the ability to perform workouts effectively and with the same amount of endurance as when younger and, of course, the one that we all hear about: sexual desire/performance. It is important to note that men have estrogen. It is present in smaller amounts than what is found in women. Young men have an abundance of testosterone.
Hormone Fluctuations in Men
As a man ages, levels of testosterone decrease while levels of estrogen increase. After the age of 30, a man’s level of testosterone typically decreases by about 1 percent each year. While female menopause happens relatively quickly (typically over the course of a couple of years), a man’s testosterone levels decrease at a much more gradual rate; this combination of hormonal changes is also known as andropause or male menopause. Signs of increased estrogen in men include gynecomastia, which is a condition which causes a man to develop breast tissue similar to that of a woman, low sexual desire/inability to achieve and maintain an erection, loss of muscle mass, etc. The decrease in testosterone and the increase in estrogen in men is due to a process called aromatase. Aromatase occurs primarily in fat cells. The higher the body mass that a man has, the more fat he accumulates, especially around the midsection. In order to determine the levels of estrogen and testosterone being produced, a physician will order laboratory tests and will prescribe the correct course of treatment to bring these hormones back into balance. Getting back on track takes a multi-level approach including taking bioidentical testosterone to counter the excessive estrogen, taking prescription medications as well as vitamin supplements, proper nutrition, etc.
Hormone Fluctuations in Women
For women, estrogen is responsible for bringing about menopause. Though menopause can be brought on surgically as the result of a hysterectomy, or medically due to chemotherapy treatments for cancer, it usually happens as a woman reaches the end of her menstrual years. The age at which a woman enters menopause varies, but can start in the late 40s to early 50s and can last anywhere from a few months to a number of years. The decline in estrogen causes collagen levels to decline which can account for thinning and wrinkling of skin, low libido, thinning of the tissues of the vaginal walls which causes dryness, painful intercourse and difficulty reaching orgasm. Declining estrogen levels are also responsible for the decline in bone growth, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Alternatively, a woman can have estrogen dominance or too much estrogen. Low progesterone plays a key role in estrogen dominance and is connected to high levels of stress. Cortisol is released when the body is stressed. Increased cortisol levels cause decreased progesterone levels, thus resulting in estrogen dominance. All of the bothersome symptoms of aging in women including hot flashes, mood swings, memory difficulties, weight gain, etc., can be brought under control with proper treatment.
In order for menopause to be treated successfully, a physician or healthcare professional will need to order laboratory testing in order to verify if menopause is occurring or if some other process may be taking place. Once menopause has been diagnosed, a healthcare provider will discuss which types of treatment options would be preferable and safe. Rather than taking traditional hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, many women are opting for bioidentical therapy along with dietary and lifestyle adjustments and thus experience relief. This type of treatment works naturally with a woman’s chemistry to bring her into balance.