Hormones are responsible for pretty much every process that happens in our body. From around 40 years old, many of our hormones decline. This is because we are programmed to die after we have raised our offspring to be old enough to have offspring themselves. Well guess what, we are now living twice as long as that. So what can we do about our declining hormones? Because if we do nothing, we are going to get old. Can we stop it? Yes we can to some degree and that’s worth doing surely. I’m all for it. The first step is to understand how they work and what they do for us. Then find yourself a good Anti-ageing Medicine practitioner who will test your hormones and correct any imbalances to help slow down your ageing.
Thyroid hormone is a big one. It controls the metabolic rate of all your cells, maintains blood pressure, regulates tissue growth and regulates heat. If you are always cold, get your thyroid hormone checked. Declining thyroid hormone leads to fuzzy brain, weight gain, fatigue, high cholesterol and poor blood pressure regulation. It is very easy to treat so get your thyroid function checked so it doesn’t accelerate your ageing. Correcting hypothyroidism will make you feel so alive and energetic, you’ll wonder how you put up with it for so long. It’s worth looking into.
Another hormone that affects ageing is Estrogen. Estrogen is known as the youth hormone as it keeps the skin looking youthful. It enhances collagen production and other components of the dermis as well as maintaining epidermal thickness. The decline of estrogen and progesterone is why women seem to age rapidly after menopause. Replacement of these hormones is simple (heard of HRT?). However, some people may have risk factors that need to be discussed with a doctor. If you have ever had cancer of your female bits, or if that cancer is in your family, you may not be suitable for HRT.
After menopause, we lose bone density. This is because Parathyroid Hormone and Calcitonin decline and these are the hormones that keep the calcium in your bones. These effects can be prevented by taking calcium, vitamin D and calcitriol but again discuss with your doctor. You can even have your bone density checked periodically. Weight bearing exercise also helps keep the calcium in your bones. Bone density decline doesn’t just happen to old people. I’ve seen many nasty fractures on women in their 50s from mechanisms of injury that would not have caused a fracture in a younger woman. And the last thing you want is to be laid up with any sort of fracture. You may be unable to work, unable to exercise, unable to get around, unable to drive. Maybe for months. That inertia could lead to other health problems and so on. Seriously, look after your bones.
Two hormones that wreak havoc on your body over time are Adrenaline and Noradrenaline. These guys are deadly but paradoxically they are supposed to save us from a life threatening situation. They help us in “fight or flight” situations but hey we don’t actually have those very often in our modern lives. They increase our heart rate and blood pressure and divert blood flow away from non-vital organs (bowel, stomach, liver etc) towards the vital organs (brain, heart and lungs) and also to our skeletal muscles. They also increase blood glucose levels. This ensures that when it comes time to stand and fight or run for your life, we have oxygen and energy in all the right places (our legs, arms, heart, lungs and brain). This is called a Stress Response and it is great for a life threatening situations but how many of those have you had lately? (OK so every time you drive on the freeway… ).
So you know how everyone is always going on about how stress is bad for you? This is why. We have so many stressors in our daily lives that our brain perceives that we are being threatened and turns on the Stress Response. The result is constantly circulating adrenaline and noradrenaline leading to high blood pressure, high blood sugar and an overworked heart – a recipe for disaster. Diabetes. Heart attacks. Strokes. The absolute pits. What to do about this. Well that’s all about de-stressing, an entire other subject and again there is more than enough information out there without me adding to it. I just hope that if you actually understand how stress kills you, it will not just be some random concept but a solid piece of information that will inspire you to manage your stress.
Had enough of hormones? Me too. But there is one more that must be mentioned because lack of it is also a killer and will take 20/30/40 years off your life and it will be a miserable decline. Did you guess? Yes its Insulin. Poor old insulin gets a bad rap but in reality it’s not insulin’s fault. Its only purpose in life it to usher glucose into the cells. All cells need glucose. It is the fuel for our bodies and all metabolic processes depend on it. But if we don’t have enough insulin, or our cells are resistant to insulin, glucose can’t get into our cells and it just kicks around in our blood stream where is does a lot of damage.
Glucose is a big molecule and our blood vessels don’t like too many big molecules. It is bad for the inside layer or endothelium. We need our blood vessels to be in good condition so they can provide oxygen and energy to all the tissues of our body. If our small blood vessels get damaged they just pack up and die (bad. think of all those tiny blood vessels in your eyes, in your skin) and if our big blood vessels get damaged, they develop plaques on the inside. If these plaques rupture, they can block the blood vessel. Or our own platelets may rush to the scene to repair the damage from the plaque and do more harm by forming a clot which makes the blockage much worse. Heart attack. Stroke. So one of the results of too much glucose in the blood is damaged blood vessels throughout our body. This happens gradually so we don’t even notice until the damage is done. And something bad happens.
The other result of too much glucose is glycation. Glycation is when the glucose reacts with the amino acids in our proteins (we are made of proteins) which damages them. This is very evident in the skin of a poorly controlled diabetic, The glycation breaks down the proteins in the dermis making the skin sag and wrinkle. To much glucose can damage every tissue in our body.
So why does this happen? Either no insulin (Type I diabetes) or not enough insulin and the insulin we do have loses its ability to let the glucose into the cells (Type II diabetes). It is Type II diabetes that usually starts in middle age and leads to untold decay and disease.
So why can’t the insulin get to the cells to let the glucose in? This is called insulin resistance and is caused by two things. Excess weight and not enough physical activity (Doh!). I know. I know. You hate this part. But if you have excess adipose tissue (fat) especially around the belly, complex interactions in fat tissue draw immune cells to the area and trigger low-level chronic inflammation. It is thought that this inflammation can contribute to the development of insulin resistance.
But the good news is, when you exercise, your muscles need lots of glucose so insulin and glucose happily work together to supply the demand. This makes your cells more receptive to insulin. And that receptiveness becomes a normal thing. If you never exercise, your cells forget how to interact with insulin to let the glucose in and you get insulin resistance. And Type II diabetes.
There are many other hormones which will decline as you age. Of note are melatonin, the sleep hormone. Cortisol, which increases your energy levels and improves stress resistance. Then there’s DHEA. This hormone is the fountain of youth.
Some hormones can be replaced artificially and some can’t. Some are very expensive, like DHEA. Whereas Thyroxine and Melatonin are quite cheap. Do some research. Find out more about your hormones. Visit your doctor with at least some foundation of knowledge and watch them struggling not to roll their eyes!
Hormones are essential for life. They make absolutely everything happen in our bodies. So it’s no surprise that when they begin their decline in our fifties, our lives can unravel. Most of us are still working and looking after a family. The kids may have gone but the parents seem to be replacing them. We still have so much to do. A mortgage to pay off. People who need us. Possibly a career in full swing. We need our body to perform. There’s no time for illness. Poor sleep. Poor concentration. Lethargy. Broken bones. It is worth finding out about your hormones. Your GP or an anti-ageing medicine practitioner can investigate the important ones and recommend ways you can support your endocrine system. Look into it. Squeeze every drop you can out of that body of yours. Out of that life of yours. You still have a long road ahead. It will be much more enjoyable if the car is purring.