For centuries, humans searched for the mythical spring known as the Fountain of Youth. According to legend, drinking or bathing in its restorative waters would turn back time and leave you looking and feeling as you did in younger years. Today, the search is no longer literal, but continues in metaphorical form and with enduring enthusiasm. In fact, as we live longer and in a culture that vigorously celebrates youth, the desire to recapture the appearance and energy levels of youth is perhaps keener than ever. This fight against aging leads many to wonder: does HRT make you look longer?
Hormone levels shift throughout life, guiding our development through childhood, puberty, and the childbearing years. These shifts are also intimately related to how we age. Falling testosterone levels in men and the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone that trigger perimenopause and menopause result in a host of physiological changes. Some of these changes are neutral or merely inconvenient. But others can have a profound and destructive impact.
In particular, the physical changes caused by changing hormone levels can significantly affect how you feel about yourself. And it’s more than skin deep; social and emotional insecurities triggered by a changing appearance can impact your interpersonal relationships and your confidence level as you move through daily life. Because many of these changes are related to hormone levels, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has the potential to shape how you look and feel as you age.
How Sex Hormones Affect the Aging Process
Sex hormones help to chart the course of your life, from fetal development in utero to sexual development in puberty, to reproductive capacity as adults. However, the effects of sex hormones aren’t limited to sex and reproduction. Rather, their influence is seen and felt in a wide range of physical attributes, behaviors, and emotional states.
As women approach menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate significantly before plummeting to mark the end of the reproductive years. Men, on the other hand, experience a more gradual hormonal shift, with testosterone levels falling about 1-2% per year after the age of 30. But for both men and women, the hormonal changes that come with aging have a profound effect on various body tissues and systems, influencing how we look and feel. These include:
- Sex drive and sexual function: Perhaps the most obvious function of sex hormones is the impact on sex drive and sexual health. Menopause, perimenopause, and andropause, with all of the related symptoms and sequelae, can leave you with diminished sexual desire present and, in the case of women, even result in painful sex. This may leave you not only undesiring, but undesirable and feeling out of touch with your body.
- Body composition: In men, low testosterone levels are associated with central obesity and a loss of lean muscle mass. Likewise, women lose much of the protective and restorative properties estrogen has on muscles once they enter menopause, and hormone-related changes in fat distribution lead to increased abdominal fat deposition. Changing fat distribution and a loss of muscle tone can rob you of your youthful physique and compromise the strength and integrity of your musculoskeletal system.
- Bone health: There is a direct correlation between age-related decreases in sex hormones and the loss of bone density. This commonly occurs in women post-menopause and in men after age 65—or sooner if they are experiencing abnormally low testosterone levels. Bone loss may be reflected in your posture, but it also leaves you more susceptible to fractures and can keep you from feeling strong and healthy.
- Metabolism and energy level: The loss of muscle mass plays a role in slowing metabolism, which can not only change how you look, but also cause fatigue and lack of energy. The result may be a less active lifestyle that further accelerates weight gain and the loss of bone and muscle.
- Skin, hair, and nails: The integumentary system, which includes your skin, hair, and nails, is where many observable changes become evident as sex hormone levels decrease. Skin becomes thinner, less elastic, and drier; wrinkles develop and skin sags. At the same time, some of the skin’s protective mechanisms become less efficient, which increases susceptibility to cancer and impairs wound healing. Aging is also associated with hair loss and changes in pigmentation. All of these changes are challenging as we strive to look our best.
While some people go through age-related hormone changes with little difficulty and are unbothered by the changes to their appearance, for others it is a highly distressing experience.
So, Does HRT Make You Look Younger?
Wanting to look younger is natural—after all, there’s a reason Fountain of Youth lore spans across cultures and continues to resonate with us. Age-related changes to your appearance suggest a loss of vitality. They can affect how you see yourself, how you are seen by others, and how you experience the world around you. Often, it can feel as though you become a stranger in your own skin, as your appearance no longer reflects the way you feel inside.
If you are struggling with the impact of age-related hormonal shifts, seeking the guidance of a highly trained practitioner who specializes in HRT can help counteract many of the physical changes that make you look and feel older. By supplementing your body’s natural hormone levels, HRT can help you maintain a more youthful body composition. While this effect is particularly evident in men, research suggests that women can also benefit. HRT is also known to help women maintain softer, smoother skin, resulting in a younger look.
In addition to—and, often, as a result of—these physical changes, HRT often changes how you see yourself. In very real ways, using HRT to address symptoms of hormonal change can help you feel younger. It can give you more energy, elevate mood, and increase sex drive. It can make sex more comfortable and improve sleep in both men and women. All of these things may help you not only feel better and more confident, they can also spur you to stay active and take better care of yourself. In other words, they can help you feel like yourself and allow you to present your best self to the world.
A Holistic Defense Against the Effects of Aging
While HRT can be a critical piece of the puzzle, it is not the only strategy for those who want to look and feel their best as they age. Many actions, including lifestyle changes, can help you counteract the effects of aging and hormonal decline. These include:
- Emphasize weight-bearing and resistance exercise: Exercise takes on extra importance as you age, as it can help to counteract the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise utilizes the body’s effort against gravity to build muscles and strengthen bones. Likewise, resistance training with weights or bands can promote muscle strength and help build bone density. These activities can also help you maintain a healthy weight and minimize unwanted changes to body composition.
- Focus on a healthy diet: The importance of a healthy diet cannot be underestimated at any stage of life. A well-balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle can have both curative and protective effects while also helping you look the way you want.
- Consider nutritional supplements: Certain vitamin and mineral supplements may have a significant impact on your overall health, energy level, and appearance as you age. Additionally, if not adequately provided in the diet, nutritional supplements can help to compensate for lacking essential nutrients.
A hormone specialist can help you create a holistic strategy that integrates the best therapies and lifestyle strategies to combat the unwanted effects of aging. With a tailored approach that combines proven treatments, you can ensure that you are on the right path for this new stage of life.
Hormone replacement therapy may not be the elusive Fountain of Youth, but it can help you live your best life. As part of a healthy and proactive lifestyle, HRT presents new possibilities for aging comfortably and gracefully. The physical and emotional boost it provides may have you looking and feeling more youthful and energetic for years to come.
If you want to learn more about the possibilities of HRT, BodyLogicMD can help. As top specialists in hormonal health, the practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network have a wealth of experience in providing customized solutions to age-related hormone changes. Contact a local practitioner in your area to schedule your first appointment, or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how your hormones may be impacting your daily life.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.