The goal of anti-aging is to slow, stop, or even reverse many of the changes associated with aging. This means staying healthy, active, and vibrant of body and mind, while avoiding the common diseases and infirmities of aging. One cornerstone of anti-aging strategy is to replace the hormones that naturally decline with aging, including the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as a few adrenal hormones.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
The science of aging reveals we are designed to reproduce and to survive. Once accomplished, by about middle age our genetic replication starts increasing in mistakes, enzymes slow in catalyzing chemical reactions, and hormones decline. Aging begins …
HRT is really about preventing disease and maintaining quality of life. It’s about keeping the body operating well. Not having optimal hormone levels is like letting a fine automobile just run out of oil, then declaring it is “growing old” as the red light comes on and it overheats.
After menopause female sex hormone production dramatically plummets, and while the same thing happens to men at andropause, it occurs at a slower rate. One result of hormone decline is physical aging — meaning thin bones, loss of muscle mass, fat accumulation and loss of skin elasticity and radiance. For women, vaginal dryness, and for men, erectile dysfunction, are directly related to low-hormone levels.
Mental aging related to low sex hormones includes many symptoms, such as depressed mood, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, lack of motivation, and low sex drive. Increased rates of diseases are associated with low sex hormones, including heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, dementia and certain cancers.
The adrenal hormones decline about the same in men and women, and similar to testosterone in men, they drop slowly over time. By age 50 many people are already low on two key adrenal hormones, pregnenolone and DHEA (de-hydro-epi-androsterone).
Pregnenolone is known for its role in mental processing and memory. It is also produced in the brain and has been shown to play a role in the creation of memory as well as protecting the nerve circuits that preserve memory. Scientists believe that the hormone pregnenolone has vast potential for maintaining healthy cognitive function and may be “the most potent memory enhancer yet reported.”
Research shows that low pregnenolone correlates with Alzheimer’s dementia. Pregnenolone stimulates the growth of new nerves in the brain and increases a memory enhancing neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Further studies show that supplementing pregnenolone can reverse memory deficits. It also has the amazing ability to stimulate nerve transmission while some of its metabolites actually calm over-excited nerve tissue. This makes pregnenolone sharpen memory and cognition while helping conditions such as anxiety.
DHEA is made from pregnenolone and has a wealth of benefits including musculoskeletal support, promotion of mental health, immune system regulation and maintaining cardiovascular health. Good for bones, muscle and metabolism, DHEA has been shown to increase bone mineral density, increase muscle mass and stimulate breakdown of fat leading to weight loss.
Improved mental function, memory and mood are also associated with DHEA. Healthy DHEA levels improve even sex drive. Like pregnenolone, DHEA is a potent neurosteroid hormone that has protective and stimulatory affects in the brain.
Safety & Efficacy
I only recommend using “bioidentical” hormones for replacement. Bioidentical simply means identical to our biology, having 100% exactly the same chemical and molecular structure as the hormone that is normally found in the body. By contrast, many drugs are similar to natural hormones, and will activate hormone receptors in the body, but are not identical. For example, birth control pills and synthetic hormone “look-alikes” are much stronger than our natural hormones yet not identical.
Confusion surrounds the topic of HRT in men and women. Most of this is due to the fact that a few synthetic drugs used for HRT have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, blood clots, heart disease and stroke. Studies on bioidentical HRT have shown these risks are not present and the hormones are effective in lowering risks of the above-mentioned diseases as well as diminishing many physical and mental signs of aging.
Bioidentical hormones were being used long before drug companies even came into existence. They are available by prescription in a few commercial forms, but mostly we employ the compounding pharmacist to make HRT formulations that are specific to each patient and uniquely available in either a tablet that dissolves under the tongue, a topical cream, injection or pellet implants.
Adrenal supplements are available over-the-counter, without a prescription. I strongly encourage obtaining blood levels of pregnenolone and DHEA-sulfate (the more stable form for measuring) prior to supplementing and then again to insure proper dosing. As with other steroid hormones there is no benefit, and usually harm, in taking too large a dose of hormone replacement. Optimal dosing of sex and adrenal hormones is best determined through testing.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.