Hormones affect every aspect of life. Unfortunately, the importance of adequate and balanced hormones is often ignored as someone ages. But hormones play a significant role in healthy aging and treating a hormone imbalance can often make a significant difference on how a person feels.
If you are creeping close to 50 years of age or if you are older, I encourage you to examine whether or not your symptoms are actually due to hormone imbalances.
The following is a summary of the key roles of the main sex hormones.
Impact of Hormones after the Age of 50
Role of Progesterone
Role of Estrogen
Role of Testosterone
· Precursor of other hormones
· Higher progesterone levels decrease risk of cancer
· Slows down the aging process
· Facilitates thyroid function
· Normalizes blood clotting
· Regulates blood sugar levels
· Helps use fat for energy
· Natural antidepressant
· Restores cell oxygen levels
· Stimulates bone building
· Decreases cholesterol, LDL and homocysteine levels
· Protects against heart disease and decreases blood pressure
· Regulates fat storage and speeds up metabolism
· Stimulates vaginal thickness
· Increases sex drive
· Assists with joint formation/ decreases calcium deposits in rheumatoid arthritis
· Facilitates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin
· Protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
· Preserves muscle mass, bone growth, bone density and strength
· Ensures strong sexual desire and sense of well being
· Ensures adequate red blood cells
· Protects against breast cancer and heart disease in menopausal women
Symptoms Associated with Hormone Imbalances
- Depression and anxiety are symptoms of low progesterone, low testosterone and both estrogen deficiency and excess. If you feel sad and you don't know why, check out your hormones before you start addressing your symptoms with medication for depression or anxiety.
- Difficulty remembering can be attributed to either low estrogen or low testosterone.
- Painful intercourse and vaginal dryness is often associated with low estrogen levels.
- Lack of sex drive or sexual performance is too often just associated with aging when it can be due to low progesterone or testosterone or high estrogen levels.
- Frequent urinary tract infections or incontinence can be due to low estrogen and, if so, can be greatly reduced by addressing estrogen levels.
- Arthritis, especially when it affects the hands and causes deformity in the joints, is a symptom of low estrogen levels.
- Weight gain since your 40s is often due to hormone deficiencies or imbalances. If your estrogen levels are high it can often result in weight on the hips and thighs. If testosterone is low it will result in increased abdominal fat, Low progesterone will cause an overall increase in weight in the midsection.
- Fatigue can be caused by low estrogen or low testosterone.
Causes of Hormone Imbalances
Hormone levels are naturally lower as you age, but the following factors can increase the rate of decline:
- Genetics plays a role, but it is not overly significant for most people
- Stress, especially when it is chronic and unrelenting
- Sleep deprivation over a long period of time
- Nutrient deficiencies or dietary imbalances - especially if your diet has been lacking protein, fat and/or minerals
- Environmental toxins are known to disrupt hormone levels and how the body metabolizes and uses hormones
- Trauma, especially head trauma can result in hormone changes
- Chronic pain impacts hormone levels
- Medications play with hormones. Some of the most significant disruptors are SSRIs and birth control pills.
Assessing Your Hormone Status
There are a number of ways of assessing your hormone status. For many, you can determine hormone deficiencies and excesses simply based on symptoms and health history. Blood tests are never very accurate to assess hormone levels, but they become even less reliable as you age.
The most accurate way to assess hormone levels, especially as you age, is via urine testing. The Dutch Hormone test, for example, assesses hormones levels and whether the body is able to metabolize hormones appropriately.
Treating Hormone ImbalancesThere are a number of different ways to treat hormone imbalances. For some individuals, hormone levels can be normalized by simply improving one's lifestyle -- getting more sleep, decreasing stress, improving diet, and exercising more. For others, nutraceuticals, herbs and homeopathics can be beneficial in addressing hormone imbalances. For those that have severe or unrelenting symptoms, bio-identical hormone therapy can be a wonderful option.
The benefits of bio-identical replacement therapy include:
- relief of menopausal symptoms
- reduced risk of heart disease and cardiovascular events
- improved cholesterol profile
- prevention of osteoporosis
- prevention of memory disorders
- maintenance of nervous system
- maintenance of skin health
- maintenance of oral health
- maintenance of eye health
- prevention of urogential and vaginal atrophy
- relief of arthritic symptoms
Bio-identical hormone therapy (BHT) is a safe option for treating hormone deficiencies. Bio-identical hormones are derived from plant sources and are modified to replicate the hormones found in the body. Naturopathic doctors in Ontario and British Columbia are able to prescribe bio-identical hormones.
If you suspect that your symptoms are related to your hormones, talk to your naturopathic doctor. The NDs at Naturopathic Foundations Health Clinic offer a range of options for assessing and treating hormone imbalances, including bio-identical hormone therapy.