HEALTH FEATURE ARCHIVE

Pills, Patches, and Shots: Can Hormones Prevent Aging?

We could not survive without hormones. They are among the most common and vital chemical messengers in the body. From head to toe, each moment of life, they signal cells to perform tasks that range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Among their many roles, hormones help regulate body temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. In childhood, they help us "grow up." In the teen years, they are the driving force behind puberty. But what influence, if any, the natural decline in some hormones has on the aging process in middle and late life is unclear. Although a few proponents are convinced that hormone supplements can favorably alter the aging process and have advocated their widespread use, the scientific evidence supporting this premise is, for the most part, sketchy.

For more than a decade, the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the Federal Government's National Institutes of Health, has supported and conducted studies of replenishing hormones to find out if they may help reduce frailty and improve function in older people. These studies have focused on hormones known to decline as we grow older: