What About "Anti-Aging" Hormones?
Have you read claims for "anti-aging" therapies such as human growth hormone (HGH) and hormone replacement therapy? Learn what the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has to say about these medications.
Hormones are chemical messengers that help keep our bodies working properly. For example, they are involved in regulating our metabolism, immune function, reproduction, and growth. Hormones are made by specialized groups of cells within the body’s glands. The glands—such as the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and testes—release hormones into the body as needed to stimulate, regulate, and control the function of other tissues and organs involved in biological processes.
We cannot survive without hormones. When we are children, hormones help us grow up. In our teenage years, they drive puberty. As we get older, some hormone levels naturally decline. But what does that mean? Scientists do not know exactly. In order to learn more, the National Institute on Aging investigates how administering hormones to older people affects frailty and function. Many of these studies focus on hormones that naturally decline with age, including human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
Levels of some hormones change naturally over the lifespan. Some hormones increase with age, like parathyroid hormone that helps regulate the amount of calcium in the blood and bone. Some tend to decrease over time, such as testosterone in men and estrogen in women. When the body fails to make enough of a hormone because of a disease or disorder, a doctor may prescribe hormone replacement drugs. These come in many forms such as pills, shots, topical (rub-on) gels, and medicated skin patches.
Hormones: a “Fountain of Youth”?
You may have read magazine articles or seen television programs suggesting that treatment with hormone replacement drugs can make people feel young again or can slow or prevent aging. That’s because finding a “fountain of youth” is a captivating story. But the truth is that, to date, no research has shown that hormone replacement drugs add years to life or prevent age-related frailty. And, while some drugs have real health benefits for people with clinical hormone deficiencies due to a disease or disorder, they also can cause harmful side effects. That’s why even people who have a diagnosed hormone deficiency should still only take hormone replacement drugs prescribed by a doctor, and under a doctor’s supervision.
Hormone Therapies May Upset Our Natural Hormone System
Higher concentrations of hormones in your body are not necessarily better. Why? The body maintains a delicate balance between how much hormone it produces and how much it needs to function properly. If you take hormone replacement drugs or supplements, especially without medical supervision, you can adversely affect this tightly controlled, regulated system. Because the hormonal balance is so intricate, too much of a hormone in your system may actually cause the opposite of the intended effect.
For example, taking a hormone replacement drug or supplement can cause your own hormone regulation to stop working. Or, your body may process the drugs or supplements differently than the naturally produced hormone, causing an undesired effect. It is also possible that a drug or supplement could amplify negative side effects of the hormone naturally produced by the body.
Supplement Buyer, Beware
Some hormone-like products are sold over the counter without a prescription. Using them can be dangerous. Products that are marketed as dietary supplements are not approved or regulated by the FDA. This means that companies making dietary supplements do not need to provide any proof that their products are safe and effective before selling them. There is no guarantee that the “recommended” dosage is safe, that the same amount of active ingredients is in every bottle, or that the substance is what the company claims. What you bought over the counter may not have been thoroughly studied, and potential negative side effects may not be understood or defined. In addition, these over-the-counter products may interfere with your other medications. The NIA does not recommend taking any supplement touted as an “anti-aging” remedy because there is no proof of effectiveness and the health risks of short- and long-term use are largely unknown.
People with genuine deficiencies in specific hormones should consult their doctors about appropriate treatments. Talk with your doctor if you are interested in any form of hormone therapy or “anti-aging” approaches beyond a healthy diet and physical activity. Meanwhile, people who choose to take any hormone supplement without a doctor’s supervision should be aware that these supplements appear to have few clear-cut benefits for healthy individuals and no proven influence on the aging process.
Source: National Institute on Aging. To find out more about human growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen and other hormone treatments, download the free National Institute on Aging consumer factsheet, “Can We Prevent Aging?”
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