Article at a Glance
- Sex drive, reproduction, metabolism, sleep, stress, and energy levels are all influenced by hormones.
- Hormones change with age and are often to blame for many of the changes you may be experiencing in your 50’s.
- Certain hormonal fluctuations can be mitigated with evidence-backed therapies.
Are you experiencing fatigue, weaker muscles, reduced sexual performance, sleep issues, or poor memory? A lot of these symptoms are caused by hormonal changes.
The exact age when these changes start to occur isn’t easy to pinpoint. However, the following are some of the hormonal changes that you may be experiencing in your fifties, along with ways you can mitigate these changes and their resulting symptoms.
The Aging Endocrine System
The endocrine system is a group of organs and glands in the body that is involved in regulating several essential functions, such as sleep, digestion, immune response, and mood regulation via the production of hormones. The main control centers of hormone production are the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
The aging endocrine system leads to changes in hormone levels and functions, which causes a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, depression, and reduced sex drive. Here we’ll examine hormones whose changes are most noticeable for those in their 50’s, and we’ll also unveil the steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of aging on those hormones.
Testosterone is one of the most notable hormones that changes with age in men. Age-induced testicular dysfunction causes testosterone levels to fall at a rate of about 1%-2% every year after ages 30-40 [R, R]. And age isn’t the only factor that affects testosterone levels – genetics and body composition do, too, causing this estimated percentage decline to vary greatly among individuals [R, R].
Even slight changes in testosterone levels can affect the body. Low testosterone levels are linked to a variety of issues, 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].
Although declining testosterone levels are a normal part of aging, there are some promising ways to stave off this decrease. Lifestyle changes that include weight-loss, sleep improvement, and stress reduction can contribute to enhanced testosterone levels [R].
If your testosterone levels are below normal, visit a health professional to see if you may benefit from testosterone replacement. Testosterone replacement therapy can be administered in the form of injections, pellets, tablets, patches, or gels, and has been shown to significantly improve waning testosterone levels [R].
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that enhances insulin sensitivity, reduces inflammation, improves immunity, maintains sexual functioning, boosts memory, and enhances cognitive performance [R]. It functions as a precursor of sex hormones, like testosterone [R,R].
DHEA levels fall progressively with age. Men in their 50’s usually have lost between 10-20% of their DHEA [R]. Because of DHEA’s vast positive effects, low levels of the hormone are associated with age-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis, bone loss, inflammatory diseases, sexual dysfunction, depression, and anxiety [R, R].
For a non-medical means of enhancing DHEA, one can engage in regular exercise, which has been linked to higher DHEA levels [R].
DHEA replacement can also significantly increase levels, and treatment with DHEA has been shown to improve bone loss and depression [R, R, R]. If your DHEA levels are significantly low, you can ask your provider for a personalized treatment recommendation.
Cortisol is a key stress hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response. When under stress (both physical and psychological), the body makes more cortisol to assure sufficient energy is available to deal with the stressor. Cortisol then increases glucose production in the liver, which can be used for energy [R]. It also acts on the immune system, preparing the body for any imminent attack that might arise from the perceived stressful setting [R].
Between the ages of 50-89, there is an overall increase of cortisol by 20% [R]. High levels of cortisol are associated with impaired memory, learning, sleep, and sexual function, as well as a higher risk for osteoporosis development [R, R, R, R, R].
Because cortisol is a hormone that responds to stress, ways to control its levels are often related to stress-management [R]. Mindfulness meditation, laughter, and whole-body cryotherapy significantly reduce cortisol levels [R, R, R]. Fish oil, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea supplements are also effective in reducing cortisol [R, R, R].
Leptin is a hormone involved in the regulation of appetite, body weight, and energy balance [R]. Aging can lead to both reduced leptin levels and decreased leptin sensitivity, meaning it can no longer perform its functions as effectively because cells don’t respond to it as well as they did before [R].
Low levels of leptin are associated with weight gain and may contribute to the muscle decline and body fat increase generally seen with increasing age [R]. But that doesn’t mean you should aim to increase leptin, because high levels of leptin aren’t beneficial either, as they’re associated with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis [R].
So what kind of leptin levels should you aim for as you age? Based on the current research, it’s best to maintain your body’s sensitivity to leptin rather than aim to manipulate its levels. A high-protein diet significantly enhances leptin sensitivity [R]. Studies also show how exercise can partially reverse leptin resistance, so as with most age-associated changes, regular physical training is beneficial [R, R].
Insulin sensitivity, or the ability to respond to insulin, declines with age. Because insulin is an essential hormone for the metabolism of glucose, a drop in its sensitivity levels is associated with glucose intolerance, and ultimately diabetes [R]. Under normal conditions, insulin signals cells to take in glucose from the blood. When insulin sensitivity goes down, cells respond less, leading to increased levels of glucose left in the blood.
According to research, BMI is the strongest predictor of insulin resistance in middle-aged men [R]. To improve insulin sensitivity, research findings suggest incorporating weight loss, aerobic exercise, and resistance training in your daily routine [R] [R].
Hormonal changes with age may seem inevitable, but with a few lifestyle alterations, you can be proactive in trying to mitigate the effects. A good start is to track your hormone levels over time, using these self-quantification techniques, which will help you gain objective evidence about your hormonal health to see which of the above interventions work best for you.
You can also browse through our directory for health and longevity clinics to find the right place to manage your hormones as you age.
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