Navigate Up

Men's Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Aging changes in hormone production

Information

The endocrine system is made up of organs and tissues that produce hormones. Hormones are natural chemicals produced in one location, released into the bloodstream, then used by other target organs and systems.

The hormones control the target organs. Some organ systems have their own internal control systems along with, or instead of, hormones.

As we age, changes naturally occur in the way that body systems are controlled. Some target tissues become less sensitive to their controlling hormone. The amount of hormones produced may also change.

Blood levels of some hormones increase, some decrease, and some are unchanged. Hormones are also broken down (metabolized) more slowly.

Many of the organs that produce hormones are, in turn, controlled by other hormones. Aging also changes this process. For example, an endocrine tissue may produce less of its hormone than it did at a younger age, or it may produce the same amount at a slower rate.

AGING CHANGES

The hypothalamus is located in the brain. It produces hormones that control the other structures in the endocrine system. The amount of these regulating hormones stays about the same, but the response by the endocrine organs can change as we age.

The pituitary gland is also located in the brain. This gland reaches its maximum size in middle age and then gradually becomes smaller. It has two parts:

  • The back (posterior) portion stores hormones produced in the hypothalamus.
  • The front (anterior) portion produces hormones that affect the thyroid gland (TSH), adrenal cortex, ovaries, testes, and breasts.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck. It produces hormones that help control metabolism . With aging, the thyroid may become lumpy (nodular). Metabolism slows over time, beginning at around age 20. Because thyroid hormones are produced and broken down (metabolized) at the same rate, thyroid function tests usually show results within the normal range.

The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands located around the thyroid. Parathyroid hormone affects calcium and phosphate levels, which affect the strength of the bones. Parathyroid hormone levels rise with age, which may contribute to osteoporosis .

Insulin is produced by the pancreas. It helps sugar (glucose) go from the blood to the inside of cells, where it can be used for energy.

The average fasting glucose level rises 6 to 14 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for each 10 years after age 50. This is because the cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin.

The adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys. The adrenal cortex, the surface layer, produces the hormones aldosterone and cortisol.

  • Aldosterone regulates fluid and electrolyte balance.
  • Cortisol is the "stress response" hormone. It affects the breakdown of glucose, protein, and fat, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy effects.

Aldosterone release decreases with age, which can contribute to light-headedness and a drop in blood pressure with sudden position changes (orthostatic hypotension). Cortisol release also decreases with aging, but the blood level of this hormone stays about the same. Dehydroepiandrosterone levels also drop, although the effects of this drop on the body are not clear.

The ovaries and testes have two functions. They produce the reproductive cells (ova and sperm). They also produce the sex hormones that control secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts and facial hair.

  • With aging, men sometimes experience a slightly decreased level of testosterone .
  • Women have decreased levels of estradiol and other estrogen hormones after menopause .

EFFECT OF CHANGES

Overall, some hormones are decreased, some unchanged, and some increased with age. Hormones that are usually decreased include:

In women, estrogen and prolactin levels usually decrease significantly.

Hormones that remain unchanged or only slightly decreased include:

  • Cortisol
  • Epinephrine
  • Insulin
  • Thyroid hormones T3 and T4

Testosterone levels usually decrease slightly as men age.

Hormones that may increase include:

RELATED TOPICS

References

Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 24.

Updated: 9/2/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com