Aging: Can Hormones Prevent Aging? (cont.)

Heed The Warnings

The NIA recognizes that some hormone-like products are available over the counter and can be used without consulting a physician. The Institute discourages individuals from self-medicating with these products for a number of reasons. First, these products are marketed as "dietary supplements", and therefore are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as drugs. This is an important distinction because the requirements for marketing a dietary supplement are very different from those that apply to hormones marketed as drugs. Unlike drug manufacturers, a firm selling dietary supplements doesn't need FDA approval of its products and doesn't need to prove that its products are safe and effective before marketing. Also, there is no specific guarantee that the substance in the container is authentic or that the indicated dosage is accurate. Because of these differing standards, hormone-like substances that are sold as dietary supplements may not be as thoroughly studied as drug products, and, therefore, the potential consequences of their use are not well understood or defined. In addition, these over-the-counter products may interfere with other medications you are taking.

Therefore, the NIA does not recommend taking any supplement, including DHEA and melatonin, that is touted as an "anti-aging" remedy because no supplement has been proven to serve this purpose. The influence of these supplements on a person's health is unknown, particularly when taken over a long period of time.

Talk to your doctor if you are interested in any form of hormone supplementation. In fact, you might want to show this fact sheet to your doctor to help explain your concerns.

How Hormones Work

Most hormones exist in very low concentrations in the bloodstream. Each hormone molecule travels through the blood until it reaches a cell with a receptor that it matches. Then, the hormone molecule latches onto the receptor and sends a signal into the cell. These signals may instruct the cell to multiply, to make proteins or enzymes, or to perform other vital tasks. Some hormones can even stimulate a cell to release other hormones. However, no single hormone affects all cells in the same way. One hormone, for example, may stimulate a cell to perform one task, while the same hormone can have an entirely different influence over another cell. The response of some cells to hormonal stimulation also may change throughout life.

Hormone supplements, particularly if taken without medical supervision, may adversely affect this complex system. These supplements, for instance, may not behave exactly the same way as our own naturally produced hormones have because the body may process them differently. In addition, natural hormone production isn't constant, so circulating blood levels may vary significantly over a 24-hour period. Hormone supplements can't replicate these fluctuations. As a result, high doses of supplements, whether pills, shots, gels, or skin patches, may result in excessive and unhealthy amounts of hormones in the blood. Hormone supplements also may compound any negative effects caused by hormones naturally produced by the body.