Levels of some hormones change naturally over the lifespan. Some hormones increase with age, like parathyroid hormone that helps regulate the amount of calcium in the blood and bone. Some tend to decrease over time, such as testosterone in men and estrogen in women. When the body fails to make enough of a hormone because of a disease or disorder, a doctor may prescribe hormone supplements. These come in many forms such as pills, shots, topicals (gels, creams, and sprays applied to the skin), and medicated skin patches.
You may have read magazine articles or seen television programs suggesting that treatment with hormones can make people feel young again or can slow or prevent aging. That’s because finding a “fountain of youth” is a captivating story. The truth is that, to date, no research has shown that hormone therapies add years to life or prevent age-related frailty. And, while some drugs have real health benefits for people with clinical hormone deficiencies due to a disease or disorder, they also can cause harmful side effects. That’s why people who have a diagnosed hormone deficiency should still only take hormones prescribed by a doctor and under a doctor’s supervision.
In some cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may have approved a hormone (or hormone therapy) for one purpose, but it is prescribed by physicians for another. This off-label use may occur when physicians believe that research, such as clinical studies, demonstrates a drug’s usefulness for another condition. However, consumers should be aware that off-label use of any drug may not have been tested and verified to the same degree as the original use of the drug.
Some Dangers of Hormone Therapy and “Anti-Aging” Supplements
Higher concentrations of hormones in your body are not necessarily better. And, a decrease in hormone concentration with age is not necessarily a bad thing. The body maintains a delicate balance between how much hormone it produces and how much it needs to function properly. Natural hormone production fluctuates throughout the day. That means that the amount of hormone in your blood when you wake up may be different 2, 12, or 20 hours later.
If you take hormone supplements, especially without medical supervision, you can adversely affect this tightly controlled, regulated system. Replacement or supplemental hormones cannot replicate your body’s natural variation. Because hormonal balance is so intricate, too much of a hormone in your system may actually cause the opposite of the intended effect. For example, taking a hormone supplement can cause your own hormone regulation to stop working. Or, your body may process the supplements differently than the naturally produced hormone, causing an alternate, undesired effect. It is also possible that a supplement could amplify negative side effects of the hormone naturally produced by the body. At this point, scientists do not know all the consequences.
Some hormone-like products are sold over the counter without a prescription. Using them can be dangerous. Products that are marketed as dietary supplements are not approved or regulated by the FDA. That is, companies making dietary supplements do not need to provide any proof that their products are safe and effective before selling them. There is no guarantee that the “recommended” dosage is safe, that the same amount of active ingredients is in every bottle, or that the substance is what the company claims. What you bought over the counter may not have been thoroughly studied, and potential negative side effects may not be understood or defined. In addition, these over-the-counter products may interfere with your other medications. NIA does not recommend taking any supplement touted as an “anti-aging” remedy because there is no proof of effectiveness and the health risks of short- and long-term use are largely unknown.