A recent study found that fewer than 3% of Americans met the standard for a healthy lifestyle according to four criterion: eating a healthy diet, (basically eat more fruits and vegetables), exercising at least 150 minutes a week, not smoking, and maintaining a normal body weight.1
Functional medicine specialist Dr. Marsha Nunley, founder of H.E.A.L. Medical, emphasizes the importance of healthy habits as we age. “With senior citizens constituting the fastest-growing segment of our population, it is a public health challenge as well as an individual one to keep our bodies and minds functioning at optimal levels,” she says. “It is critical to eat a plant-based diet that maintains a healthy weight and to exercise regularly,” she says, “but it isn’t enough.” For people of all ages, but especially those at middle age and older, replenishing depleted hormones offers benefits beyond those achieved with a healthy lifestyle.”
Hormones are vital chemical messengers. We don’t function well without them. They are secreted by the endocrine glands into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, signaling cells to perform their assigned tasks. Hormones regulate growth and metabolism, control immune function and reproduction, and influence cognition, emotions and mood. Hormones are powerful messengers – just a tiny amount can cause major changes in the body. “Hormonal levels fluctuate naturally, says Dr. Nunley. “In particular, as we age, some organs become less sensitive to the triggering action of hormones and the amount of hormones produced declines as well. These reductions are related to some of the common complaints of middle age and beyond: decreased energy, insomnia, loss of strength and endurance, declines in cognitive function and memory, mood swings, and weight gain,” Dr. Nunley adds.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Replenishing hormones that the body no longer produces on its own won’t turn back the clock but in conjunction with lifestyle changes, hormone replacement therapy can help many people manage the effects of the natural aging process and reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, dementia, osteoporosis and other chronic conditions prevalent as we age. “Starting hormones early is key,” says Dr. Nunley. Recent data indicate that women should begin hormone therapy within six years of the onset of menopause to obtain the most beneficial effects.
“In our practice, we prescribe bio-identical hormones,” Dr. Nunley continues, “a natural approach that helps both women and men counteract the effects of reduced hormone levels.” Bio-identical hormones are plant-based compounds that replicate the chemical structure of hormones that are naturally produced by the human body. The body responds to these compounds in the same way it responds to its own naturally-produced hormones. Bio-identical hormones are available by prescription from a local pharmacy in standard dosages or from a compounding pharmacy in individually-formulated dosages.
Tips from Dr. Nunley on several of the hormones commonly considered for their anti-aging properties:
- Estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones that govern a woman’s reproductive system. Supplementation during perimenopause and menopause can reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, insomnia, and mood swings.
- Testosterone, the “male hormone,” also falls with aging. It influences masculine characteristics in men, regulates sex drive in both men and women, and has been particularly effective in restoring libido, energy levels, and self-confidence in both men and women. Testosterone Increases the ability to lose weight and gain and maintain muscle.
- Melatonin, best known for the role it plays in our sleep-wake cycle, also has immune-boosting properties, is a powerful antioxidant and may help prevent cancer.
- Thyroid hormone optimization can help with mood, weight gain and cognition.
Dr. Nunley points out that the composition of a hormone replacement program is highly individualized and should be developed in close consultation with a physician who specializes in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. “Your history and your goals for improving your health and quality of life govern the process,” she concludes. “Every one – at any age – can be their best self.”
1. Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics and Their Joint Association With Cardiovascular Disease Biomarkers in US Adults; Loprinzi, et al, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, April 2016, Volume 1, Issue 4, 432-442, http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196%2816%2900043-4/abstract
Marsha Nunley, M.D., founder of H.E.A.L. Medical, is board-certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and palliative care. Dr. Nunley specializes in functional medicine, a systems-based approach to treating the whole person. www.marshanunleymd.com