The aging process begins at birth and steadily progresses until we reach the end of life stage or pass due to unexpected events. Although scientists have yet to discover the precise reason behind why we age, several theories exist that attempt to explain the persistent deterioration of the body and brain over the course of a normal lifetime. One particular theory that is gaining popularity among senescence experts is called the “big bang” reproduction model of aging that emphasizes the role of the endocrine system, a system of glands and organs responsible for the release of multiple hormones controlling reproduction, growth, cognition, instinctual behaviors, hunger and mood.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are powerful chemical messengers that facilitate communication among cells and effect changes in cell metabolism. Specialized cells in the body contain receptors that are designed to absorb and “understand” the message provided by hormones targeting a cell’s receptor. Similar to a key fitting certain locks, hormones binding to a receptor immediately activates something called a “signal transduction” that forces the cell to perform a controlled action mediated by the hormone.
Stimulation and inhibition of hormone production and release can be affected by:
- Brain activity (thinking patterns that influence mood, perception and responses to external events)
- Nutritional deficiencies and lack of physical activity
- Environmental fluctuations involving temperatures and light intensities
- Aging or disease
Produced by the pancreas, pituitary, thyroid, pineal and adrenal glands, some hormones are sex-specific, such as those made by the ovaries in women and the testes in men. However, it is the “master gland”, or hypothalamus, that controls all endocrine system structures in both men and women by releasing regulatory hormones. Although the amount of these regulatory hormones remains the same throughout our lives, the response to hypothalamus hormones by the ovaries and testes changes dramatically as we age. This partially explains why women experience menopause at about age 50 and men experience andropause at about the same age as well.
Ovaries, Menopause and the Dreaded Hot Flashes
The ovaries begin producing reproductive cells called ova around age 11 or 12 in most females. In addition, ovaries also start releasing hormones responsible for the secondary sex characteristics seen in adolescent girls, such as pubic hair, breasts and fat deposits on the hips. Sometime in their 30s, the ovaries reduce the amount of hormones they release, making it more difficult for women to become pregnant. Decreasing levels of estrogen and estradiol also contribute to emerging and classic signs of aging like wrinkles, dry skin, looser skin and age spots.
Women in their mid to late 40s may experience less regular periods and lessening of flow during menstruation. Termed “perimenopause”, these signs simply mean that the ovaries are in the process of stopping production of estrogen, progesterone and eggs. Perimenopause can last several years until menstrual periods cease permanently. A woman is considered menopausal when she has not had a period for one full year.
Symptoms of cessation of female hormone production include:
- Atrophic vaginitis (thinning and drying of vaginal walls)
- Recurring yeast infections
- Hot flashes, headaches, insomnia, irritability and mood swings
- Decrease in breast tissue firmness
- Minor memory problems, especially with short term memory
- Frequency of urination
- Loss of sexual response
While some women report many other symptoms, some may only suffer one or two. A woman’s response to menopause is unique and differs greatly due to factors such as genetics, overall health at the time of menopause and mental attitude toward menopause.
Estrogen and Progesterone
Loss of estrogen and progesterone in older women are known to exacerbate the aging process by negatively affecting a woman’s physical, emotional and mental condition. Known as “steroid” hormones, estrogen and progesterone were at one time responsible for facilitating pregnancy and full-term birth while also contributing to bone mass, skin elasticity and cardiovascular health.
To counteract loss of these hormones, The Wellness Institute offers treatment plans for women who are suffering symptoms of menopause. Our specialists can provide safe and effective hormone replace therapy, nutritional supplements and suggestions for leading a healthier lifestyle that have been proven to greatly diminish the distress of hot flashes, lack of interest in sex, fatigue, mood swings and irritability.
Nutritional and anti-aging supplements that can help reduce health issues caused by menopause and aging include:
- Melatonin–may provide relief from insomnia.
- Vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid–decreases levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that appears to promote cardiovascular disease when elevated.
- Coenzyme Q10–essential for optimal metabolism and the oxidation of sugars and fats into energy.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine Arginate–another amino acid that enhances cell mitochondrial activity that leads to neuronal growth in the brain. Overall brain functioning, especially memory, benefits from ALCA supplements.
- Carnosine–muscle and nerve cells contain rich amounts of carnosine. Unfortunately, carnosine levels decline as we age but taking carnosine supplements appears to have a significant impact on heart muscle health as well as mental functioning.
- Lipoic Acid–a powerful antioxidant that kills free radicals in cell mitochondria, lipoic acid may help slow aging by enhancing cell functioning and reducing damage caused by excess blood glucose.
- These anti-aging supplements can also improve a man’s health as he enters his 40s and 50s and begins experiencing the physical, mental and emotional difficulties caused by decreased levels of testosterone.
What is Andropause?
What menopause represents to women, andropause is to men. However, men do not lose their ability to reproduce like women as they age and continue manufacturing viable sperm even though testosterone levels steadily decrease starting in their 50s. Aging changes in men primarily center on the testes, where testosterone is made and released. Andropause is the term used by doctors who diagnose men as experiencing symptoms of androgen loss, or the loss of hormones called androgens. A generic term indicating any one of the steroid hormones that regulates male characteristics, androgens primarily affect the ability of men to achieve erections and emergence of secondary sex characteristics. Testosterone is considered an androgen, along with androstenedione and DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT is important to men due to its influence on male balding patterns, skin conditions such as acne and prostate health.
Symptoms of Andropause
Men over the age of 50 often suffer the following symptoms of andropause:
- Disruption in urinary functioning due to enlargement of the prostate gland (benign prostatic hypertrophy)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased sex drive
- Lack of energy
- Anxiety and depression
- Memory and concentration difficulties
- Loss of body hair, muscle mass and strength
Just as menopause affects women differently, men experience andropause symptoms in varying degrees, with some feeling more physical problems than emotional or mental problems and vice versa. Hormone replacement therapy for men provides benefits that not only include relief from fatigue, sexual problems and prostate issues but may also help reduce the risk of developing prostate or bladder cancer. Additionally, many men report that HRT improves their sense of well-being and satisfaction that they feel is missing from their lives.
Testing for Hormonal Imbalances at The Wellness Institute
In addition to receiving a physical exam, patients interested in learning more about menopause and andropause treatment programs will be given a blood test to evaluate their existing hormonal levels. In women, levels of the three estrogens–estradiol, estrone and estriol–are determined as well as progesterone, testosterone, and SHBG, or sex hormone binding globulin, a substance that exerts an influence on the circulation of free estradiol and testosterone in the bloodstream.
Men also receive similar blood testing to discover how much testosterone they are lacking, which will help specialists at The Wellness Institute develop the appropriate treatment plan. Only professionals who are experienced with treating menopause and andropause patients should supervise hormone replacement therapy since achieving the optimal balance of hormones is essential to overcoming the physical and mental affects of aging and loss of hormones. At the Wellness Institute, you will meet friendly providers who possess the knowledge and clinical skill to guide you through this process with understanding and compassion. We want your later years to be the best years of your lives and we can help you achieve that goal at The Wellness Institute.