As we get older, many women find that they wear more of the outward signs of aging than males of the same age. In some cases, they have the same diet or exercise habits as their male counterparts, limit their sun exposure, or share the same genetic background. So why do they appear to age more quickly? The answer may be hormones.
What is hormone-related aging?
Hormones are produced in different parts of the body, such as the ovaries, thyroid, and parathyroid glands. They regulate metabolism and immune function, and affect sleep, weight, mood, memory, as well as skin texture and muscle mass. The endocrine system is one of three important determinants impacting how we age: our hormones, environmental exposures such as exposure to UV radiation, and genetics all affect the way our faces and bodies age. Hormonal aging can be particularly traumatic, as it tends to come on suddenly. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract hormonal aging.
Among the hormones that play a role in aging are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, human growth hormone, and cortisol. Imbalances in any of these can exacerbate the physical signs and symptoms of aging, such as loss of skin volume, wrinkles, a “crepe-like” texture, and hair loss. Hormonal imbalances can also result in lack of sleep, which is detrimental to skin.
“Estrogen” refers to three hormones: estrodial, estriol, and estrone. Estrogen is associated with collagen production and skin elasticity, and starts to decline as women approach menopause. A precipitous drop in this hormone during the first years of menopause can create the appearance of rapid aging. Estrogen also reduces inflammation, so when levels of estrogen decrease, skin conditions like rosacea can flare up. The pale skin typical in older women is often an effect of estrogen loss. Just as the skin loses elasticity as estrogen production wanes, so do the joints and arteries.
Hormone imbalances often occur because certain hormones affect the production of other hormones. The adrenal glands turn cholesterol into DHEA, and DHEA in turn serves as a component of both estrogen and testosterone. DHEA starts to decline as early as the 20s, and has been used in therapies targeting autoimmune disorders and obesity.
Women who suffer from insomnia or “brain fog” may not be producing enough progesterone. Low progesterone may lead to increased cortisol, the “stress hormone.” This is why many women who lack adequate progesterone may experience symptoms of anxiety as they get older. Progesterone can have a calming effect.
Human Growth Hormone, known as “HGH” is associated with muscle mass and bone density. Testosterone, although typically thought of as a “male” hormone, also plays an important role in women’s health. In females, mood, energy, and weight are all affected by testosterone levels. Age-related declines in testosterone can have an adverse effect on weight and sex drive in women.
What can be done about hormonal aging?
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – Sometimes physicians treat the medical symptoms of hormonal imbalances with hormone replacement therapy. This can help promote and preserve the presence of collagen, resulting in more youthful skin. However, there are risks associated with HRT, and it will not repair signs of aging from sun damage.
- Wear sunscreen – Sun protection is good way to preserve the skin’s collagen and slow the appearance of hormonal aging.
- Drink water – Staying hydrated improves skin’s volume and overall appearance.
- Eat healthy foods– Wild salmon, nuts, and foods with phytoestrogens have been recommended by dermatologists and OB/GYN doctors to help counteract hormonal aging.
- Skin care – Topical retinoids and topical vitamin C have both been shown to increase collagen.
- Dermal fillers – If the signs of hormonal aging are already present, dermal fillers can be a less invasive way to restore skin volume and smooth wrinkles.
- Laser skin rejuvenation – Lasers have also demonstrated the capacity to stimulate collagen production.
With lifespan increasing and the age of perimenopause and menopause onset staying constant, more women find themselves confronted with the effects of declining hormones. Fortunately there are many options, from the most natural preventive measures to medical treatments to correct unwanted signs of aging.