As we age, nearly everyone wants to revive the benefits of younger days. In this quest for the Fountain of Youth, some turn to anti-aging hormones or hormone therapy – ubiquitously promoted in the media but mostly rejected by the Food and Drug Administration and reliable specialists.
Do these hormone supplements or hormone therapies work, are they useless – or even possibly dangerous? As Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says, the key is “separating legitimate hope from ridiculous hype.”
Or as stated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH): “The truth is that, to date, no research has shown that hormone therapies add years to life or prevent age-related frailty.”
So, read on before you are disappointed by the results – or mortified by the costs.
The first step is talking to a good general practitioner about your health issues. Some of the health issues you attribute to age may be aided by conventional treatment, or changes to diet, exercise or sleep. (If you don’t have one, see “The Right Way to Pick a Doctor.”) Then see what your doctor says about hormone therapy and whether he or she can recommend a specialist.
When you’re seeking an anti-aging doctor, consider the advice offered by Health.com and avoid these six profiles:
- The fixer: Doctors who claim they can restore your youth.
- The super-certified: There are no widely recognized anti-aging credentials.
- The hormone-lover: Those who swear by hormone therapy.
- The prescription-happy: This is self-explanatory.
- The in-exhaustive: Doctors who prescribe without extensive testing.
- The very vague: They can’t provide clinical studies to support the recommended therapy.
Keep in mind that while there may be some value in these treatments, the cost is high — some hormone treatments can easily exceed $1,000 monthly — and by extension, the profit motive is powerful.
Here’s a look at a few of the most common hormone regimes:
Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
HGH is the latest sensation in anti-aging hormones. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic explain it this way:
“Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland … to fuel childhood growth and help maintain tissues and organs throughout life. Beginning in middle age, however, the pituitary gland slowly reduces the amount of growth hormone it produces. This natural slowdown has prompted an interest in the use of synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) to stave off some of the changes that occur with age, such as decreased muscle and bone mass.”
But the Mayo Clinic also says you should be skeptical of doctors who prescribe HGH for reducing signs of aging. “There’s little evidence to suggest human growth hormone can help otherwise healthy adults regain youth and vitality. In fact, experts recommend against using HGH to treat aging or age-related conditions.”
However, the Mayo Clinic and others say there are situations when HGH could be required for aging adults, specifically health-related issues, such as short -bowel syndrome or AIDS- or HIV-related muscle wasting.
“The problem is, No. 1, it doesn’t work for everybody,” says endocrinologist Edward N. Smolar. “No. 2 is dosage. We don’t know what dosage would be necessary. And No. 3, it’s opening up a whole Pandora’s box of side reactions.”
Shots of HGH can run as much as $15,000 a year, and it is hard to find a doctor who will prescribe them because of insufficient evidence about their effectiveness and side effects, according to the NIH.
As with HGH, anti-aging claims for this hormone are weak, again according to the Mayo Clinic. Your body naturally makes DHEA in the adrenal gland, and it helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.
DHEA is sold in the United States without a prescription as a nutritional supplement. You can get a bottle of capsules at the drugstore in different formulations for, say $5 to $20, which would be a good investment if it did all the things that various people have claimed, such as improve mood, boost the immune system, sharpen memory and combat aging. But again, the claims have not been scientifically substantiated according to WebMD.
In addition, there are concerns that using it as a supplement may increase the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, including prostate, breast and ovarian cancers.
There are conflicting opinions as to whether melatonin, known as “the sleep hormone,” has any impact on aging signs. But the prevalent opinion seems to be it doesn’t. According to PubMed.gov.
“Melatonin is a strong antioxidant (often it is called scavenger of free radicals), which protects the body from the effects of noxious compounds. Therefore it was hypothesized that the reduction of melatonin levels with age contributes to the aging process. So far, the only remedy [using melatonin] to extend the life span was a 40 percent reduction in caloric intake, which prolonged the life in mice, rats, dogs and monkeys by 30-50 percent.”
PubMed.gov goes on to say there is no proof this combination works on humans, and although tests are underway, it will take decades to see if it has any impact.
For men whose bodies make very little or no testosterone, testosterone replacement might be helpful, according to the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. But the NIA says more research is needed.
“Specifically, it remains unclear to what degree testosterone supplements can help men maintain strong muscles and sturdy bones, sustain robust sexual activity, or sharpen memory,” NIA says.
The agency also notes there might be some dangers in taking too much testosterone therapy, including increased chance of prostate cancer.
Hormones in women
Hormone therapy for women are mostly discussed for those who are post-menopausal, and they involve estrogen and progesterone. The most common treatments are known as menopausal hormone therapy (MHT).
Conditions that would lead a woman to want this type of therapy are endometrial problems, heart disease, osteoporosis, loss of bone mass, depression and dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Again, according to the NIA, there is little evidence that this type of therapy can help with these aging issues, and there’s some evidence it might be harmful.
According to the American Cancer Society, MHT might cause certain cancers, and “well-conducted studies have led many doctors to conclude that the risks of MHT often outweigh the benefits.”
The consensus so far: Hormone therapy will not make you look 20 again, though it may be the answer to specific medical conditions. Meanwhile, the price is substantial, and the health risks for many of these treatments are still being assessed. You do the risk-reward analysis.
If you have any comments on the impact of hormone therapy or hormone supplements on your life please comment below or on our Facebook page.