From experience or textbooks, we all know that hormone levels change as we age. From my co-worker who experiences “personal summers” and fans herself with several sheets of paper during her hot flashes, to older men who measure their shrinking biceps with measuring tapes.
Almost all human hormone levels decrease in middle age as the pituitary gland in charge of their production wears out. Loss of vigor, muscle mass, and bone density, the major impacts of aging, tend to increase as hormone levels decrease. Is it possible the decline of the pituitary gland is the clock that drives aging? Can adding these hormones back into old bodies reduce or reverse aging?
Human Growth Hormone– This hormone is associated with growth during childhood and healthy function of organs and tissues in adults. There are limited human studies, but it appears it’s replacement does increase muscle mass and decrease body fat in older adults.
The downsides to replacing HGH? Some people have experienced carpal tunnel, swelling of arms and legs, joint pain and it may even contribute to heart disease and diabetes. If that doesn’t scare you, these days there are HGH pills and injections available. It’s just that none of it has proven truly effective against aging and it’s currently unregulated.
Estrogen and Testosterone Replacement-In women, age-related declines in estrogen are associated with menopause, reduction of bone density, and changes in skin tone. Estrogen replacement in older women has reduced bone density loss, but constant exposure to estrogen can lead to breast cancer.
Men who choose to undergo hormone replacement often experience higher energy levels and increased muscle mass, but the long term exposure to replacement hormones, testosterone and estrogen, are leading causes of prostate cancer.
What’s more, none of the therapies above address the root of the problem, the aging endocrine system.
Conclusion: Certain symptoms of aging are heavily associated with hormonal changes, but hormone replacement therapies have only been able to restore a small amount of function at high costs. Further, some of the loss of vigor, muscle mass, and energy can be counteracted by healthy diet and exercise. In other words, hormone levels are just one piece of the aging puzzle, a puzzle that may one day be solved if we can account for, and repair, all the pieces at once.
Phoenix Gene Novel Note: I do this blog to research how theories of aging might apply to characters in my novel who have a rare gene that allows them to stay young. I’ve decided the fictional gene will not directly change hormone levels, but that stem cells will fix the aging endocrine system and return the characters to youthful hormonal levels.