This is our first article in a series that will describe the role our reproductive hormones play in the aging process.
What is aging exactly? It can be described in many ways, but the description that I prefer is “the process of becoming older, a process that is genetically determined and environmentally modulated”. So over time, changes occur that are a result of daily exposure to our environment – our cells are constantly challenged with toxins and stressors that, over time, damage our DNA and can lead to cell death. But some aspects of aging are programmed by our genetic makeup. This plays out differently in the various organ systems, For example, the lens of the eye tends to get stiff over time, making it difficult to accommodate or see things up close. It’s also quite common to see a decline in the heart’s capacity to relax quickly and receive blood from the lungs more efficiently. Those of us who have never had lung disease or smoked still lose about a teaspoon of lung tissue per year due to the natural process of aging.
Our reproductive hormones have a specific path they take during the aging process, depending on your gender and the hormone in question. Estrogens are a group of hormones that decline drastically in women at the time of menopause, usually in the 5th or 6th decade of life. These are critical in regulating the cycles that lead to fertility in women. On the other hand, testosterone is a reproductive hormone that declines gradually starting in the late 20s to 30s in both men and women (yes- women have testosterone, and in fact, it is the most abundant reproductive hormone in a woman’s body – more on this in the next article.)
Many of these age-related changes are seen as chronic conditions and treated by the medical community because we believe that treatment will help people live longer or feel better. We replace knees with artificial joints, treat high blood pressure, and take out cataracts. But when it comes to the loss of reproductive hormones, there is a tendency to say ‘well, that’s just part of getting older.” But does it really have to be that way? Is that truly appropriate?
Consider this – until the 1800s, human life expectancy was less than 40 years. And it has only been in the last 100 years that life expectancy has increased well beyond our optimal reproductive years, due to the tremendous advances in medical care. Therefore, there is no reason to accept we are simply designed to live for decades beyond the peak of our reproductive hormones; and by extension suffer the symptoms that develop from their decline. In many respects, evolution hasn’t caught up to our longevity yet!
There are many symptoms that occur in both men and women that have been clearly associated with declining estrogens and testosterone, but given the fact that hormones act on the body as a whole, it can be difficult to easily connect the dots between deficiency and clinical manifestation. It is easy to tell when age-related arthritis in a knee joint causes knee pain. But it’s much more challenging to tie lack of energy to failure of testosterone production. But the latter can be just as disabling! Think of the effect that lack of energy has on exercise habits. Most adults struggle to achieve the amount of exercise needed each week. Lack of exercise can lead to developing obesity and obesity can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
We believe it is critical to incorporate the status of reproductive hormones in the development of a complete picture of health and wellness so that we can help create a treatment plan that optimizes all aspects of your health and wellness and brings your life back into balance. The assessment of your hormone levels is an important part of this process, and appropriate supplementation may be able to enhance many aspects of your life.
In our next article, we will dive deeper into the specifics of each of the major reproductive hormones – the estrogens, testosterone, and progesterone – including the effects they have on your body, both at their peak levels and as they decline.
This article is not meant to be construed as medical advice, but rather printed for informational purposes only. Everyone’s health situation is different. As always, it is critical to discuss the use of any supplements with a licensed healthcare provider to ensure that any use is safe and potentially effective in your medical status and condition.