Diseases & Conditions

Aging Changes in Hormone Production


Overview & Description

As the body ages, the amounts of certain hormones the body produces change.

What is the information for this topic?

There are many different hormones in the body. Each has different effects on the body. Aging affects hormone levels in a variety of ways, including:

  • changes in levels of hormones being released and produced
  • changes in the rate at which the hormones are broken down
  • changes in the way the tissues and cells respond to the hormones
  • The hormone changes seen in women at menopause are most likely to cause symptoms. Menopause occurs when a woman stops making enough of the female hormone called estrogen. Estrogen is made by the ovaries. Menopause usually occurs around age 50. A woman may go through menopause earlier if she has her ovaries removed. Low estrogen levels can cause many symptoms. These may include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • hot flashes
  • mood swings
  • night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • As men age, they make less of the male hormone called testosterone. This usually causes less sperm to be made. Decreased testosterone production can cause symptoms that include:

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  • decreased muscle size
  • decrease in sex drive
  • depression
  • poor sleeping
  • weakness
  • The level of most other hormones in the body either stays the same or decreases slightly. However, these age-related changes do not seem to affect people. For example, the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, may make fewer hormones with age. Though these hormones are important in fluid and salt balance, problems do not usually occur. Insulin secretion, which helps keep blood glucose levels normal, usually decreases with age. However, healthy older people do not usually have a problem with blood glucose.

    There is little that can be done to reverse the age-related changes in hormone levels. However, hormone replacement pills or shots are helpful in some cases. Estrogen replacement for women is usually the most helpful. Estrogen pills can get rid of hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy has risks and side effects, however, and women should discuss these with a healthcare provider. Rarely, testosterone can help an older man feel better.

    Taking other hormones, such as growth hormone, has not been shown to be helpful in healthy people and may cause harm.


    Attribution

    Author:James Broomfield, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:10/03/01
    Reviewer:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Reviewed:10/04/01