Are Hormones Good or Bad?
Unfortunately, as we age, these levels decline, and in some instances, go away altogether, and suddenly the symphony is without its head violinist or trumpeter.
The question to ask yourself, is this common decline, and subsequent deterioration, necessary? Can we replace these all-important players in our body’s health and reap their benefits even into our twilight years? Can the music keep playing?
The answer is yes. But not without controversy, push back, and the common question, “Isn’t hormone replacement bad for you?” This article is meant to answer that question so you can achieve top performance, even as you age.
Not Good Nor Bad
We, and many of the physicians we work with, get this question a lot. The problem is, the question is a loaded one with a series of complex answers that cannot be summed up with a simple, “Yes” or “No.”
It’s nuanced and deserves a full explanation.
Transported through our blood, hormones are our body’s signalers and stimulate specific cells or tissues into action. Hormones are responsible for such critical processes as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. They are vital to your overall health and well-being and once they decline or become imbalanced, these vital processes also decline or become imbalanced, which can lead to issues like weight gain, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and reproductive challenges.
As you can see, these major instruments orchestrate our body’s overall health and well-being, however, as in a symphony, if you have too many playing too often or too many not playing or showing up at all, the entire piece is discordant. The masterpiece is a flop! Therefore, it’s important to find the right balance.
Too Much of a Good Thing
It is in our nature to think that if a little bit helps, a lot will help more. When it comes to substances in the body, like hormones, this is not the case. Too high of levels can be just as deleterious as too low of levels.
Often too high of levels of a hormone are caused by disease states or other imbalances in the body. For example, too much thyroid can lead to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). This occurs when your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine, which can accelerate your body’s metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
In the case of estrogen, too high levels can lead to abnormal bleeding, breast tenderness, increased vaginal discharge, and weight gain. Other signs of high estrogen include bloating, heavy periods, decreased sex drive, fatigue, mood swings, and depression.
In men, too high levels of testosterone can also have negative effects including acne, aggression, early puberty, excessive “hairiness,” high blood pressure, high libido, high red blood cell count, increased risk-taking behaviors, and infertility and decreased sperm count.
In women, too high of testosterone levels can lead to signs of virilization—the development of male physical characteristics (i.e., muscle bulk, body hair on the face, chest, or back, deepening of the voice).
Too Little of a Good Thing
Just as too much can wreak havoc, too little can cause enormous challenges too. As we age, we’re apt to suffer from a decrease in levels of hormones and as mentioned before this decline can have dire and long-lasting effects on our health. In fact, lower hormone levels can exacerbate and encourage the deleterious effects of aging even further.
Using the same hormone examples as we did before, here are just some of the short-term and long-term effects of sub-optimal and low levels of hormones.
Lower levels of thyroid can, on the surface, cause a range of symptoms, such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin and brittle nails, aches and pains, and feeling down. At a more serious and prolonged level, sub-optimal levels can increase your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Women with an estrogen deficiency experience hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, mood swings, depression, memory problems, dry skin, painful intercourse, and loss of libido. Long-term complications of low estrogen levels can include cognitive decline, heart disease, osteoporosis, joint pain, and inflammation.
Men who experience a decrease in testosterone report sleep disturbances and insomnia, emotional changes such as depression, issues related to their sexual performance and libido, decreased strength, and weight gain. The side effect of having greater body fat and less muscle mass can potentially increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Women also experience lower levels of testosterone as they age which can result in a lower libido, weight gain, and changes in mood. Over a longer period of time, these lower levels may also contribute to more serious issues like heart disease, poor memory, and a loss of bone density.
These are just a few of the hormones that can affect a person’s health, but as you can see, in just these few examples, lower levels are implicated in both short-term, bothersome symptoms, as well as severe complications and disease states.
Balance is Key
Balance is crucial when achieving optimal health. You don’t want too high of levels and you most certainly don’t want too low of levels. Your physician partners with you to guide an approach to achieving optimal levels, and consequently, optimal outcomes specifically for your overall well-being and health. They understand that in this type of medicine, one size does not fit all. Each human body is unique, and therefore must be treated individually to accomplish the best possible outcome. Like in a symphony, with each instrument playing its part, your physicians work with you to make sure each hormone is adjusted to play the right notes at the right time.