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How Do Our Sex Hormones Change As We Age?

By Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD, April 10, 2019


Like many other biomarkers, age is a contributing factor in how our sex hormone levels change. Males experience a more gradual change throughout their lifetime, while women have a more abrupt change during the years leading up to menopause. Although we can’t stop the biological clock that dictates some of the changes to our hormone levels, we can alter some lifestyle factors in order to slow the process.

Men

The three sex hormone biomarkers that InsideTracker tracks in men are total testosterone, free testosterone, and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Think of changes to these hormones in two separate tracks, a micro-track, and a macro-track. The micro-track exists within the macro-track. It indicates acute changes to hormone levels that are associated with sleep, calorie and nutrient intake, activity level, and stress. The macro-track depicts the life cycle of these hormone levels. It generally follows the same path for all men but can be influenced by lifestyle factors along the way.

We’ve talked in a great deal about the science behind these markers, how training can impact levels, and how certain nutrients play an important role in their production. These factors are all within the micro-track. They can ensure that you are reaching your optimal potential at each life stage. In this blog, we will focus on the lifestyle factors that can influence the long game and slow the natural changes in sex hormones as we age.

For biological males, testosterone production begins at puberty. It steadily increases through early adulthood and then plateaus in the 30s. Around age 40, testosterone levels begin to decline by roughly 1-2% per year. At age 70, the rate of decline increases. Free testosterone levels follow the same path, however, its decline is at a slightly more accelerated rate of 2-3% per year.1,2,3

The accelerated decrease is due to two factors. Free testosterone is a product of testosterone, so as total testosterone levels decline, free testosterone follows. In addition, free testosterone levels are dependent on SHBG levels. SHBG is a primary carrier for testosterone. As we age, SHBG increases by about 1-2% each year.2 Higher levels of SHBG bind more free testosterone. You can read more about the relationship between free testosterone and SHBG, but know that free T is doubly affected in aging.

Ways to slow the process for men

All males will follow the general path outlined above, but health and lifestyle factors can help to slow the decline in hormone levels during the process. Lifestyle behaviors that can slow the rate of decline are:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. An increase in BMI and body fat leading to obesity is associated with faster decline in testosterone levels.1 To prevent this, maintain lean muscle mass through regular exercise. A combination of aerobic activities such as walking, biking, and swimming plus resistance training can help to preserve lean muscle mass. Eating a diet within your nutrient and calories needs is also important.
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Proper diet and exercise are the most important factors in preventing type 2 diabetes.1 Manage your fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels using your InsideTracker recommendations. Maintain healthy blood pressure or naturally lower it with these lifestyle tips.
  • Maintain your health and avoid requiring medication. Polypharmacy, or taking multiple medications can increase the rate of decline.1 This category is broad but ties back to maintaining overall health by maintaining healthy body weight, eating a diet that is best for your body and remaining active. In addition, some medication may be linked to decreased testosterone production, like statins.4
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is associated with overall poor health and also contributes to a faster decline in testosterone levels.1 If you currently smoke, the sooner you stop, the less of an impact it will have on your testosterone levels later in life.
  • Have a positive outlook. Psychological factors can also have an impact on the rate of decline.3 Individuals with depression, chronic stress, or poor perceived health experienced a greater rate of decline. Lastly, the loss of employment and the loss of a spouse or partner has also been associated with a greater decrease in testosterone.1 While these factors are not within our control, it is important to know their impact on our health.

Females

The three sex hormones that InsideTracker tracks in females are testosterone, DHEAS, and SHBG. In females, DHEAS is tested because it does not change based on a premenopausal woman’s cycle. It is a precursor to the production of estrogens and testosterone in both males and females. DHEAS has the most prominent change of these sex hormones during aging in women. DHEAS is the highest at birth. It declines in childhood then begins to increase again during puberty. It peaks again in the mid-20s before slowly declining as we age.5,6 Over-exercise, inadequate calories (particularly fats), and high levels of stress can reduce levels of DHEAS prematurely.

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 10.09.13 AM
(Figure 1: Rainey et al., 2002)

Females produce much less testosterone than men, but it is still an important marker in overall health. For premenopausal females, testosterone levels spike around day 14 of normal menstrual cycles. At the onset of menopause, testosterone levels decrease by as much as 15% and then remain stable for the rest of the lifespan.7 Lifestyle factors can cause testosterone levels to increase. Elevations in blood pressures, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol may cause testosterone levels to be elevated.8

SHBG levels remain fairly consistent throughout the lifespan if there are no external factors at play. The use of hormonal birth control can impact SHBG levels. Some methods are more impactful than others. SHBG levels can also be reduced by high waist circumference and BMI and the onset of type 2 diabetes.8

Ways to maintain healthy levels for women

SHBG and testosterone levels in females, both premenopausal and postmenopausal, may play a role in the cardiovascular risk assessment. High levels of testosterone and low levels of SHBG can indicate an increased risk of poor cardiovascular health. In order to maintain these levels within the appropriate range, women should:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. An increase in BMI and body fat leading to obesity is associated with decreased SHBG levels.8 To prevent this, maintain lean muscle mass through regular exercise. A combination of aerobic activities such as walking, biking, and swimming plus resistance training can help to preserve lean muscle mass. Eating a diet within our nutrient and calories needs is also important.
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The onset of type 2 diabetes or hypertension can increase testosterone levels.8 Proper diet and exercise are the most important factors in preventing type 2 diabetes. Manage your fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels using your InsideTracker recommendations. Maintain healthy blood pressure or naturally lower it with these lifestyle tips.
  • Maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Since sex hormones can be indicative of cardiovascular health, maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol is also important.8 Maintaining healthy levels of LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol can help to reduce risk.


Before making any assessment on your sex hormone levels, it’s important to know where you stand. You can’t improve what you don’t measure! Sex hormones are included in our Ultimate plan and are included in InnerAge, an evaluation of your biological age vs. your chronological age. Find your personalized recommendations to slow the aging process and preserve your sex hormone levels for as long as possible.

 

Do you know your levels?

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References

  1. Travison, Thomas G., et al. "The relative contributions of aging, health, and lifestyle factors to serum testosterone decline in men." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 92.2 (2006): 549-555.
  2. Feldman, Henry A., et al. "Age trends in the level of serum testosterone and other hormones in middle-aged men: longitudinal results from the Massachusetts male aging study." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 87.2 (2002): 589-598.
  3. Walther, Andreas, et al. "The rate of change in declining steroid hormones: a new parameter of healthy aging in men?." Oncotarget 7.38 (2016): 60844.
  4. de Keyser, Catherine E., et al. "Use of statins is associated with lower serum total and non-sex hormone-binding globulin-bound testosterone levels in male participants of the Rotterdam Study." European journal of endocrinology 173.2 (2015): 155-165.
  5. Davison, S. L., et al. "Androgen levels in adult females: changes with age, menopause, and oophorectomy." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 90.7 (2005): 3847-3853.
  6. Burger, Henry G., et al. "A prospective longitudinal study of serum testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and sex hormone-binding globulin levels through the menopause transition." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 85.8 (2000): 2832-2838.
  7. Rannevik, G., et al. "A longitudinal study of the perimenopausal transition: altered profiles of steroid and pituitary hormones, SHBG and bone mineral density." Maturitas 21.2 (1995): 103-113.

Kische, Hanna, et al. "Clinical correlates of sex hormones in women: The study of health in Pomerania." Metabolism 65.9 (2016): 1286-1296.

National Academies Press.