By Christine B.
Aging is inevitable for everyone. No matter how young and vigorous a person may be today, time can eventually erode that characteristic vitality that youth imbues the body. Older individuals may begin to notice that their mind and body are not functioning the way they used to. They may experience hot flashes, unexplained weight gain, mood swings, low sexual desire, depression, sleeplessness, poor memory, and a general decrease in their energy levels. Such symptoms can have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life. Those affected might not only feel unhealthy, they could also lose much of their joie de vivre.
Many people believe that these symptoms are just normal and that one should just let nature take its course. In short, one can’t really do anything about it. However, there is a great chance that these symptoms are actually being brought about by hormonal imbalances — conditions that can be managed with the right medicines and smart lifestyle choices.
What are hormones and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy?
Hormones are several types of molecules that are naturally produced by the glands of the human body, performing regulatory functions that affect a person’s behavior and physiology. You can think of them as signaling particles that help organs and tissues communicate and perform their duties. The bodily activities that hormones regulate or affect include mood, sensory perception, sleep, stress, movement, metabolism, digestion, respiration, reproduction, sexual desire, appetite, growth, repair, and waste excretion.
Many people, especially older individuals, experience imbalances in the levels of hormones in their body. Thankfully, disturbances caused by these hormonal imbalances can be effectively managed with the help of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or BHRT, a specialized field of modern medicine that involves the use of bioidentical hormones that reverse the symptoms. Conventional hormone replacement therapy typically involves the use of artificial hormones that are synthesized in the lab. By contrast, BHRT uses hormones that are naturally derived.
What sort of hormonal imbalances can be addressed by BHRT?
The kind of therapy that will be provided to a patient will depend on the kind of hormonal imbalances that they are experiencing. Before the healthcare provider proceeds with the treatment, patients are required to first undergo laboratory tests to determine their condition.
A patient may be evaluated to determine the levels of the following hormones in their body:
Testosterone – Testosterone is an androgen sex hormone that is produced in the testes of males and in the ovaries of females. It is widely known for serving an important role in the growth and maturation of reproductive tissues in males and for being essential to the development of distinctly male characteristics in men, including heavier muscle and bone mass, deep voice, as well as more body and facial hair.
Imbalance in testosterone levels can result in decreased sex drive or libido, lower levels of strength and endurance, lack of energy, sleepiness, and loss of muscle definition in men and women. Men can also experience erectile dysfunction as a result of this condition.
Estrogen – Estrogen is to females as testosterone is to males. It is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and of secondary sex characteristics like the growth of the mammary glands. Like testosterone, estrogen is naturally found in the bodies of both females and males. In men, it is important in the regulation of reproductive functions, including the maturation of sperm cells.
Good estrogen balance is essential for keeping the body healthy. It plays an important role in maintaining bone density, thus preventing the development of osteoporosis in people.
Estrogen deficiency and elevated levels of estrogen can have a significant impact on an individual’s wellbeing and quality of life. In women, it can cause hot flashes, irregular periods, poor libido, and incontinence. Elevated estrogen levels, on the other hand, is associated with breast and uterine cancer, autoimmune diseases, and hypothyroidism in women. In men, abnormally high estrogen levels are associated with prostate enlargement, heart problems, carotid artery disease, low libido, and difficulty in losing weight.
Progesterone – Aside from estrogen, progesterone is another primary hormone in women. Produced in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, and in the placenta (among pregnant women), this hormone plays important functions like regulating the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. It also plays a role in maintaining libido.
Progesterone deficiency in women can result in menstrual irregularities, infertility, mood swings, depression, foggy thinking, fatigue, and low libido. Even younger woman many need progesterone supplementation if they are experiencing estrogen-dominant symptoms or if they are failing to ovulate.
Among men, progesterone is also important precisely because it counteracts estrogen and because it is a precursor to testosterone. Low progesterone levels in men can result in the enlargement and inflammation of the prostate, decrease in the size of the urethra, diminished libido, depression, decrease in bone and muscle mass, weight gain, hair loss, and fatigue. It is also associated with heart conditions and to cellular changes that may lead to cancer.
Because progesterone is a building block of other steroid hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen, progesterone deficiency can also affect overall hormonal balance.
Cortisol – Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress and when the body is experiencing low blood glucose levels.
Under normal conditions, cortisol is needed by the body for the regulation of cardiovascular functions, blood pressure, and the use of glucose, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. However, high cortisol levels can result in problems like high blood pressure and may interfere with metabolism, mental function, cell regeneration, and endocrine function.
DHEA – Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an endogenous steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Low levels of DHEA is associated with decreased libido, joint pain, memory loss, lower metabolism, decreased muscle and bone mass, chronic fatigue, and even cancer.
Thyroid Hormones – The thyroid hormones are produced in the thyroid gland. One of the biggest endocrine glands in the body, the thyroid gland is an important regulator of energy use and protein synthesis. It is also essential for maintaining the body’s sensitivity to other types of hormones.
Thyroid imbalance can occur in two different ways, namely hyperthyroidism (elevated levels of thyroid hormones) and hypothyroidism (deficiency in thyroid hormones). Hyperthyroidism can cause the development of goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), and can lead to symptoms like fatigue, bowel movement disruption, heat intolerance (the sensation of feeling hot all the time), nervousness, fatigue, weight loss, and irregular menstrual cycles in women. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, can cause symptoms like hair loss, swelling in the face, weight gain, weak nails, fatigue, cold intolerance (constantly feeling cold), and depression.
Human Growth Hormone – Produced by the somatotropic cells in the anterior pituitary gland, human growth hormone (HGH) is essential in the regulation of cell growth, reproduction, and regeneration. Low levels of HGH can result in fatigue, decreased energy levels, diminished muscle and bone mass, increased fat and bad cholesterol levels, and baldness in men.
Pregnenolone – An endogenous steroid hormone, pregnenolone plays an important role as precursor of many hormones like testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and cortisol. Because of the pregnenolone’s huge role in hormone synthesis, low levels of it can have a direct effect on general hormonal imbalance.
Pregnenolone is abundant in the brain. Deficiency in this hormone has been associated with memory and cognitive problems, troubled mood, decreased libido, fatigue, and symptoms of testosterone and estrogen deficiency.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D is not strictly considered a vitamin because it serves functions that are similar to those of hormones. It allows the body to absorb elements like calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphate, and it also plays a vital role in metabolism.
Vitamin D can be synthesized by the body through direct exposure to the sun. But with more and more people avoiding sun exposure to minimize the risk of skin cancer, vitamin D deficiency in many people poses another serious public health risk. Low levels of vitamin D has been linked to higher risk for heart attack, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, depression, and muscle and bone pain.
Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to settle for a lower quality of life. When it comes to hormonal imbalance, there are modern solutions that can bring back the vitality and balance that your body used to enjoy. See your specialist today to learn more about your options.