Impact of hormones on aging

January 1, 2007

Boca Raton, Fla. - Age management experts focus on three hormones to slow the aging process and prevent age-related disease: dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), growth hormone and testosterone.

And while careful supplementation with these and other hormones to normal levels is thought to enhance vitality and prevent disease, taking them without proper supervision and management or for the wrong reasons, including the hope of obtaining more youthful skin or stronger muscles, can be dangerous.

Roles of hormones

"Testosterone, in both men and women, begins to fall between ages 30 and 35.

"It usually has the same effect on both sexes in that it reduces overall vitality and increases body fat. Sex drive and vigor go down. Men not only lose their sex drive but erections are not quite as normal as they were in their 20s. Lower testosterone levels affect women by diminishing sex drive, lubrication during sex and sexual satisfaction," Dr. Willix tells Dermatology Times.

Testosterone is protective for the heart and bones and seems to have some effect on mental alertness. Of the three hormones mentioned, testosterone has the greatest effect on increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat because it is a steroid. Excessive use of the hormone, or use when it is not indicated, is dangerous, says Dr. Willix, who prescribes testosterone for such things as menopause and andropause.

DHEA, an adrenal hormone, is an indicator of how people age, according to Dr. Willix. The lower the DHEA level, the more stress on the adrenal glands and the higher the incidence of disease, from cancer to heart disease.

"We think that DHEA is a true marker of the aging process," Dr. Willix says. "Normal levels for health should be maintained throughout life, so when you find somebody who has a DHEA blood level between 350 and 500, you are going to find a healthier person than if their levels are 100 or less. DHEA seems to be strongly associated with the immune system; so, low levels will cause at least a reduction in the ability to fight all kinds of illnesses."

Made in the pituitary gland, growth hormone is a complex polypeptide, not a steroid.

"We see low growth hormone levels after puberty, in the 20s. When growth hormones are low, people seem to develop the diseases of aging, earlier," Dr. Willix says.

The problem is that researchers have not yet discovered whether prescribing growth hormone to someone with low levels helps reduce those disease risks. However, among the benefits of growth hormone is that it increases skin elasticity, decreasing wrinkles, Dr. Willix says. It also has been shown to improve bone density and lower blood pressure, among other things.

Growth hormone administration is considered controversial, and Dr. Willix says it should not be used simply to improve aged skin. Rather, physicians should use it only in those who are found by blood test to be growth hormone (hGH) deficient or have other signs of hGH deficiency.

Money, modes of administration

Patients take hGH by giving themselves daily subcutaneous injections.

Dr. Willix uses testosterone gels and creams for female patients; however, since the skin preparations may affect the prostate in men he prefers injectable forms for males.