The Nature of Aging, Part 4
Hormonal Changes Programmed into Our Bodies as We Age
Testosterone is a key aging hormone. It is responsible for maintaining, among other things:
- Zest for life
- Muscle mass
The problem is that as we age, free testosterone tends to bind to globulins in the blood instead of stimulating cell receptor sites throughout the body. This is a problem not only for men but also for women -- in fact, especially for women. Yes, in larger amounts, it's what causes men to beat each other up at English soccer matches. But in smaller amounts, it's what gives you that zest for life. And women have so little of it to begin with that when that small amount "binds" and becomes unavailable, women find they've lost their zest for life (and for sex, for that matter).
Taking supplemental testosterone is not necessarily the best way to raise testosterone levels. Certain plant extracts, most notably wild oats, nettles, saw palmetto, muira puama, and maca can unbind testosterone and safely raise the levels of free testosterone in the body.
Human Growth Hormone
Who doesn't know about HGH? It's probably the 4th highest spam subject on the worldwide Internet after discount pharmaceuticals, bogus loan rates, and pornography.
The rejuvenating powers of Growth Hormone are no secret to the wealthy. Unfortunately, for the last 30 years, GH has been available only from doctors, required two injections a day, and cost approximately a thousand dollars a month. Recently, however, several alternatives for the rest of us have become available. And while I could never recommend the injections (for a variety of reasons), I can endorse the alternatives.
Many claims are made for the effects of Growth Hormone—some bordering on claims of "almost" immortality and "almost" eternal youth. Would that it were so! Although the effects are more subtle, for most people, than pronounced, they are nevertheless wide ranging, and include things such as:
- 14.4% loss of fat on average after six months without dieting
- Elimination of cellulite
- Higher energy levels
- Enhanced sexual performance
- Regrowth of heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and other organs that shrink with age
- Greater cardiac output
- Superior immune function
- Increased exercise performance
- Better kidney function
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol profile, with higher HDL, and lower LDL
- Stronger bones
- Faster wound healing
- Younger, tighter, thicker skin
- Hair regrowth
So which HGH should you use?
Well, first of all, you can no longer actually buy true Human Growth Hormone. Technically, only actual growth hormone taken from human beings can be called Human Growth Hormone. And in fact, 30 years ago, that was the sole source of Growth Hormone—human cadavers, that is. But that was abandoned when it turned out that growth hormone taken from people had a major downside (in addition to cost)—and that was that it occasionally caused the human equivalent of mad cow disease. Not good, as they say.
Fortunately, at around the same time it was determined that true Human Growth Hormone was not an acceptable alternative, recombinant DNA technology came into its own. The bottom line is that scientists learned how to alter the DNA of a single-cell yeast plant so that it would produce large amounts of Growth Hormone (molecularly, absolutely identical to real Human Growth Hormone) safely and inexpensively. Because this growth hormone is identical to HGH, people often use the terms Growth Hormone and Human Growth Hormone interchangeably. Technically, however, it should be referred to as a plant-based Growth Hormone and not Human Growth Hormone.
Nevertheless, many companies deliberately try and cross this line.
Anyway, given that there now exists a good, inexpensive source of Growth Hormone, another problem remains. It turns out that the Growth Hormone molecule is so large (containing 191 amino acids) that it cannot be absorbed orally. This means it can only be administered by injection. This, of course, requires a doctor and is very expensive—costing between $1,000 and $1,800 a month.
The only alternatives to this for years have been precursor formulas (also called secretagogues) that allow your body to produce and release more HGH. Although not as powerful as HGH injections, these formulas can be quite effective (provided your pituitary is still functioning) and carry none of the downside of the injections. The key ingredients in these formulas tend to be arginine (an essential amino acid) and GABA.
Although arginine, an essential amino acid, has been proven an effective HGH stimulator when administered intravenously, the results of oral supplementation are more questionable. And at doses sufficient to stimulate HGH production in the body, it tends to produce significant intestinal distress.
GABA, on the other hand, is far more interesting as a supplement. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid/neurotransmitter found in the brain, where it helps induce relaxation and sleep. In addition to its calming effect, GABA also stimulates the anterior pituitary, leading to higher levels of HGH. Many studies have been done on GABA that show it can promote a significant increase in plasma growth hormone levels -- up to a fivefold increase within 90 minutes of oral supplementation of 5 grams of GABA. (Note: research shows that at least 2-5 grams of GABA should be taken for it to be effective.)
Note: Build your dosage of GABA slowly. Some people experience mild tingling around the face and neck or notice a mild change in heart rate or breathing patterns when supplementing with GABA. These effects quickly disappear and are not harmful.
Within the last two years, two alternatives have appeared on the market that actually use real Growth Hormone (the plant-based variety). One is homeopathic GH. This makes use of real GH, diluted down to homeopathic levels. The jury is still out on homeopathic HGH, but the early indications (anecdotally) are that it works at least as well as the secretagogues.
And several years ago, a new form of GH that can be absorbed orally was introduced. This again works as well as a secretogogue for most people. Its advantage is that this version will work for those few whose pituitaries are dead and no longer capable of producing HGH, whereas a secreatogogue will not. Its downside is twofold.
- First cost, as it is the most expensive of the alternatives (but still far less costly than the injections).
- Second, it is now the focus of so much spam marketing that the market has been flooded with high-priced garbage formulas so that it is almost impossible to track product quality. If you find a formula that works for you, use it. But at this point in time, I have no brand recommendations.
Let me digress for a moment and explain exactly how GH works.
HGH is produced in the pituitary gland. It is released in a series of 9-24 microscopic "pulses" throughout the day (mostly in the evening), and it signals a number of body functions relative to aging and the production of other hormones such as DHEA and Melatonin and various parts of the endocrine system, including the hypothalamus (considered to be the master gland). Interestingly enough, the release of GH at "pulse" levels stimulates the pituitary to produce even more GH. However, its most important function is telling the liver to produce Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1). That's the main key to anti-aging. Specifically, the benefits of HGH can be measured in terms of how much it increases the body's production of IGF-1. Any number above 20% starts to be significant in terms of effectiveness for anti-aging.
Most of the formulas on the market will increase IGF-1 levels by a minimum of 20%—some even approaching 100%. Keep in mind, however, that one 30 minute aerobic session can easily increase IGF-1 levels by a good 100%, and a solid session of weight training can increase levels by an incredible 400-800% -- and at no cost.
In animal studies DHEA supplementation bordered on the miraculous. It seemed to:
- Extend life by 50%
- Protect against heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, obesity, and diabetes
- Boost the immune system
- Reverse the effects of stress
The reality turns out to be somewhat less.
I am not a big fan of DHEA supplementation (at least without a blood workup) for several reasons. First of all, the oral DHEA commonly used is composed of particles that are too big to be directly used by the body; therefore, it has to be sent to the liver to be broken down. Unfortunately, since the liver is unaccustomed to receiving DHEA in this form, it ends up converting most of it into androgens (sex hormones). It is these androgens that can cause the growth of facial hair in women and may contribute to prostate disorders in men. The second problem with standard oral DHEA supplementation is that there is strong evidence it reduces the body's own production of DHEA. And finally, DHEA supplementation (usually in doses greater than 10 mg a day) is often accompanied by side effects that include:
- Acne and excessive oiliness
- Growth of face and body hair in women
- Irritability or mood changes
- Over stimulation and insomnia
As we mentioned earlier, the oral DHEA commonly available is composed of particles that are too big to be directly used; therefore, it is sent to the liver, which ends up converting most of it into androgens. What's left is converted into 7-Keto DHEA, the useful portion. 7-Keto DHEA seems to provide most of the benefits of regular DHEA; but since it can't be converted to active androgens (e.g., testosterone and estrogen), it is safer and has minimal side effects.
Many people use supplements containing Mexican Wild Yam (Discorea villosa) as a DHEA supplement. The theory is that Wild Yam contains diosgenin, a DHEA precursor, which your body uses to produce its own DHEA. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that, in fact, your body converts any Wild Yam into DHEA. All benefits related to Wild Yam appear to be from its phytoestrogen effect.
Pregnenolone is the ultimate hormone precursor. Virtually every hormone in the body can be produced by your body, as required, from pregnenolone. Again, as with all of the other hormones that we've talked about, pregnenolone levels decline precipitously as you get older.
The prime benefit of pregnenolone is that it helps balance out your other hormone levels as required. In addition, though, it does provide specific benefits, such as:
- Extremely powerful memory enhancement and improved cognitive performance
- Supports the adrenals
- A strong anti-fatigue agent
- Significant benefit in rheumatologic and connective tissue disorders such as rheumatism, osteoarthritis, scleroderma, psoriasis, lupus, and spondylitis
- Repair of the myelin sheath structure
- Improved immunity
- Reduced PMS and menopausal symptoms
- And it just makes you "feel" really good
Use of pregnenolone has shown no serious side effects even at very high doses of up to 700 mg. However, at the high dosage level, there has been some occurrence of minor side effects, including over stimulation and insomnia, irritability, anger or anxiety, acne, and headaches.
Melatonin is a natural hormone made in the pineal gland. Since its first discovery in 1958, melatonin has been studied extensively and has been shown to be widely beneficial to the body. As with all of the other hormones we're discussing, melatonin levels decline significantly as we age. An interesting note on melatonin is that the trigger for production of melatonin is darkness—total darkness. Any light in the room will inhibit production of your body's melatonin. Today, however, living in a world with nightlights in the bedroom, or streetlights sneaking through the window, we actually have an epidemic of people with insufficient melatonin production, even at a very young age. Now here's the really interesting part. The problem doesn't just come from light falling on our eyes while we sleep, but from light falling on any part of the body. Even if you wear an eye-mask, so that you are in total darkness, if light is falling on your arms or chest or feet, that's enough to stop melatonin production.
The benefits of supplementation include:
- Better Sleep: Lowered levels of nighttime melatonin reduce the quality of sleep resulting in the need for more sleep. If your pineal gland does not produce adequate melatonin early enough in the evening, both the quality and quantity of your sleep may suffer. Lack of melatonin may make it difficult for you to fall asleep, or may cause you to wake up too soon. Too much melatonin and you will feel yourself feeling exhausted, or "drugged" throughout the day. If secretion does not continue, you may wake up too soon. By taking melatonin instead of other so-called sleeping aids, rapid eye movement sleep (REM=dreaming) is not suppressed nor does it induce "hangover" effects when used as directed.
- Enhanced Immune Function: Many people report that supplementation with melatonin has significantly reduced their incidence of colds and infections. The exact way in which melatonin affects the immune system is not known. However, since much of the activity of the immune system takes place at night, some researchers have proposed that melatonin interacts with the immune system during sleep, helping to buffer the adverse effects of stress on the immune system.
- Powerful Antioxidant Capabilities: Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants produced in the body. In addition, since it is both water and fat soluble, melatonin can reach almost every single cell in the body. On the down side, however, since it cannot store in the body, it must be replenished daily. This would normally not be a problem, except for the fact, as we've already mentioned, that constant exposure to artificial light has significantly reduced production of melatonin in our bodies.
- Mood Elevator: Nighttime melatonin levels are low in people with major depressive and panic disorders. Individuals with noticeable mood swings or who are melancholic also have depressed melatonin levels. Both seasonal affective disorder and non-seasonal cyclic depressions are related to the peaks and valleys of melatonin levels.
- Cancer Fighter
- Helps the Heart
- Relieves Asthma Symptoms
Extracts of wild oats and nettles can safely help increase testosterone levels in the body by releasing the bound testosterone already there and helping to prevent conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone in men. For men, zinc supplementation of approximately 50 mg a day is also advisable to help prevent production of dihydrotestosterone in the body.
Supplementation with a secretagogue such as GABA, a homeopathic HGH formula, or a sublingual polymer matrix HGH makes sense for anyone over 35. All of these are okay to use on a daily basis as they do not suppress the body's own production of HGH. At one time, my recommendation was to use the polymer matrix HGH, but quality and cost issues have convinced me that GABA based secretagogues are the best choice. You also might want to try increasing your exercise levels. Aerobic exercise can double HGH levels in the body, but weight training can increase levels by as much as 400-800%.
Supplementation with 7-Keto makes sense. Be sure and take periodic breaks as supplementation may suppress the body's own production of DHEA.
Start with 5 mg a day and increase by 5 mg a day (to a maximum of 30 mg) until you "feel" really good. Then try backing it down to the lowest level that still produces that same feeling. Finally, start backing off on the days that you use it until you are using it only 2 or 3 times a week (so as not to suppress your body's own production). As needed, as you age, you can increase the days and dosage. The final recommended dosage is age dependent. If you're younger than 50, you might consider dosages in the range of 10-20 mg 2 to 3 times a week. If you're over 50, you may end up using 15-30 mg daily.
Melatonin, in small doses, several times a week (so as not to suppress your body's own production), makes sense for supplementation. There's virtually no downside; it can help restore optimum sleep patterns, and it's a powerful antioxidant and immune enhancer. As you get older, you can increase the amount and frequency as needed. There is, of course, another option. Use black-out curtains in the bedroom, and turn off any nightlights. Try to get the bedroom as close to total darkness as you can get. This will help increase your body's own melatonin production. And when you wake up in the morning, expose yourself to sunlight ASAP to cut melatonin production and wake yourself up.
- There are several cautions that should be observed when supplementing hormones.
- Pregnant or nursing mothers should not supplement without guidance from their doctors
- Likewise, women trying to conceive would be advised to check with their doctor first
- Anyone being treated by a doctor for a pre-existing condition should check with their doctor. This would include conditions such as:
- Autoimmune disease
- Mental illness or depression
- Anyone on prescription steroids should check with their doctor first
In fact, it probably makes sense to check with an anti-aging specialist before starting a program of hormone supplementation. Yes, Matilda, there's now such a thing as an anti-aging specialist.
And by the way. Happy Valentines day everyone!
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