Article at a Glance
- Hormones are messengers your body makes that affect reproduction, energy levels, sleep, sex drive, and metabolism, among others.
- Hormonal changes that come with age are the cause of many of the changes you may experience in your forties.
- Evidence-backed therapies can help you mitigate age-associated hormonal changes
Fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and reduced sexual performance are just some of the issues you may be experiencing more often after hitting forty. Much of the time, hormonal changes are to blame for these symptoms. The good news is that there are some research-backed methods that can help counteract those changes.
Here we’ll pinpoint which hormones undergo alterations that may be affecting men in their forties and what you can do to help keep your hormones in optimal balance.
The Aging Endocrine System
The endocrine system is a group of organs and glands in the body that releases messengers called hormones. These hormones are released to tell organs throughout the body what to do and when to do it. They regulate several essential functions, such as sleep, digestion, immune response, stress, and mood regulation.
All hormones are subject to change with age. Symptoms of an aging endocrine system include fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, depression, and reduced sex drive. Here we’ll be covering hormones whose changes at 40 lead to the most notable effects, and we’ll also unveil some evidence-backed ways to mitigate the changes.
Testosterone levels are one of the primary concerns in aging men. As a result of the decline in testicular function that comes with age, testosterone levels fall at a rate of about 1%-2% every year after ages 30-40 [R, R]. However, factors like genetics and body composition influence the rate of decline and so this estimated percentage differs amongst individuals [R, R].
Low testosterone levels are linked to a variety of different symptoms, such as reduced sex drive, erectile dysfunction, increased fat, loss of muscle mass, low bone density, sleep issues, fatigue, diminished cognitive function, and depression [R].
Fortunately, there are some promising ways to increase testosterone levels, including both simple lifestyle modifications and formal supplementation from a healthcare provider.
Losing weight, improving sleep, and reducing stress can all contribute to an improvement in testosterone levels [R]. Additionally, testosterone replacement therapy is available in many forms, including injections, implants, patches, gels, and tablets, and it has been shown to significantly improve testosterone levels [R].
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is the most abundant steroid in men and functions as a precursor of sex hormones like testosterone [R]. It’s also responsible for various other effects including the reduction of inflammation, improvement of immunity, enhancement of insulin sensitivity and maintenance of sexual functioning. In addition, it provides neuroprotection by improving cognitive performance and boosting memory [R].
DHEA levels decrease at a rate of 10% per decade after the age of 40 [R]. Studies suggest that low DHEA levels are associated with age-related diseases like heart disease, atherosclerosis, bone loss, inflammatory diseases, and sexual dysfunction, as well as cognitive disorders like depression and anxiety [R, R].
Regular physical activity can maintain higher DHEA levels, as one study showed that individuals who had a long history of physical training had significantly higher DHEA levels compared to less active people [R]. DHEA replacement also significantly increases levels and has been shown to improve bone loss and depression [R, R, R]. Further studies on the effects of its long-term use are pending, so if your DHEA levels are significantly low, speak to a professional to get customized recommendations.
Cortisol is a key stress hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response that occurs in stressful settings. When under stress (both physical and psychological), the body makes more cortisol hormone to assure sufficient energy is available to deal with the stressor. Cortisol leads to increased glucose production in the liver, which can be used as energy [R]. In addition, it acts on the immune system, preparing the body for any imminent attack that might arise from the perceived stressful setting [R].
Average cortisol levels (the levels of cortisol in a non-stressful setting) increase progressively with age [R]. This increase in cortisol is linked to a higher risk for osteoporosis development and impaired memory, learning, sexual function, and sleep [R, R, R, R, R].
Because cortisol is a hormone that responds to stress, stress-management techniques can help bring it into balance [R]. Mindfulness meditation and whole-body cryotherapy both significantly lower cortisol levels [R, R]. In addition, fish oil, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea supplements are all effective in reducing cortisol [R, R, R].
Another important hormone whose function changes with age is insulin, a key compound involved in regulating blood glucose levels. Insulin levels shoot up following a meal, signaling cells around the body to take glucose from the blood and convert it into energy.
There is a correlation between increasing age, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance [R]. Insulin resistance occurs when cells becoming insensitive to signals from insulin, leading to a state of elevated blood sugar levels that increases the risk for glucose intolerance, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease [R, R,R].
Studies show a key factor in the development of insulin resistance with age is increased abdominal fat [R]. Furthermore, BMI is the strongest predictor for insulin resistance in middle-aged men, with increases in BMI leading to predictable decreases in insulin sensitivity [R].
It should be no surprise then that strength training, aerobic activity, and weight loss can lead to improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance [R]. Diets high in fiber can also lead to improved insulin sensitivity [R].
Hormones are complex and their effects are so widespread that even the slight changes that come with age can lead to significant symptoms. Fortunately, science has some evidence-backed ways to mitigate the effects of an aging endocrine system and its hormone level alterations.
To get a personalized recommendation of how to manage hormones as you age, you can start by quantifying your hormones and then find the right clinic to manage them by scrolling through our directory.
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