The Hormone Theory of Aging

Could your hormones be aging you? There are many theories behind why we age, and one is the hormone theory of aging. Experts who back this idea believe hormones, which control the function of organs, could be behind the aging process.

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Role of Endocrine System

Your body's endocrine system secretes and controls the hormones that regulate many body processes including metabolism, use of nutrients, excretion, and reproduction. As you age, these systems become less efficient, leading to changes in your body, such as menopause. The hormone theory of aging states that these changes eventually cause the effects of aging.

Do Hormones Cause Aging?

There is some evidence to support the hormone theory of aging. In one older study, researchers removed the pituitary gland of mice, the gland that controls much of the endocrine system. The researchers then substituted the pituitary gland with supplementation of all of the hormones identified in mice.

It turns out that those mice without a pituitary gland lived longer than the control group of mice that did have the gland. This led researchers to conclude that the pituitary gland must also excrete another as yet unknown hormone that negatively impacts aging.

Research on a variety of organisms has shown that mutations that reduce insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) result in longer lives. But reducing IGF-1 has inconsistent effects on age-related diseases in humans. It reduces the risks for some but increases them for others. Growth hormone stimulates the production of IGF-1, which is a strike against supplementing with human growth hormone (HGH) to stop aging.

An intriguing review of studies, published in Frontiers in Endocrinology in 2019, noted that subjects on a calorie-restricted diet had a similar endocrine profile to centenarians, with both having a favorable GH/IGF-1/insulin profile. Restricting calorie intake is only one area in which lifestyle modification has been shown to improve hormonal function. Another example of lifestyle changes improving hormone function is the observation is in weight loss and exercise improving insulin sensitivity.

Hormones for Antiaging

The concept that hormones or reduced production of hormones might cause aging has also led some to believe that the right amount of certain hormones could be an antiaging elixir. Growth hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland, helps maintain tissues and organs throughout life. It's also responsible for childhood growth. Synthetic human growth hormone has been studied in this way and promoted by some as a potential fountain of youth, with proponents hoping it can stave off the decline in tissue growth from aging.

While some adults have growth hormone deficiencies and require supplementation, this conditon is rare. Research is indecisive on any other potential benefits of HGH. In addition, the use of HGH has many potential side effects, including swelling of the arms and legs, joint and muscle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, and an increased risk of colon cancer.

Another aspect to consider is that growth hormone stimulates IGF-1, and some theories are that a reduction in IGF-1 is beneficial for aging. In this case, adding growth hormone would produce the opposite of the desired effects.

A Word From Verywell

Hormonal changes are an important part of aging. Whether they control the pace at which aging occurs or are a consequence of other changes in the body is unknown. It is unlikely that hormone substitution in humans will increase lifespan, and it can even be dangerous. Some doctors will prescribe HGH, but research does not support its use for antiaging.

You might be surprised to learn that there are many other theories of aging. We can only hope to live long enough to see which are correct.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.