Effects of Aging on the Endocrine System

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Chapter: Anatomy and Physiology for Health Professionals: Endocrine System

The endocrine system is one of the systems least affected by aging.


Effects of Aging on the Endocrine System

The endocrine system is one of the systems least affected by aging. The levels of TSH, ADH, PTH, thy-roid hormones, PRL, and glucocorticoids remain relatively constant throughout life. However, the major exception to this is the decline in reproductive hor-mone production. Some endocrine tissues also are not as responsive to stimulation during later life. GH and insulin are not secreted in nearly the same amounts after eating carbohydrates as they were earlier in life. The effects of these hormonal changes include reduced bone density and muscle mass. Peripheral tissues also may become less responsive to certain hormones such as ADH and glucocorticoids.

In general, hormones are metabolized more slowly due to aging. The thyroid may become nod-ular and metabolism slows down beginning around age 20. Though thyroid function tests may still be in the normal range, thyroid hormone levels may rise, leading to an increased risk of death from cardiovas-cular disease. PTH levels also rise, contributing to ­osteoporosis. The average fasting glucose level rises 6–14 mg/dL every 10 years after the age of 50. Aldoste-rone release decreases with age, contributing to light-headedness and blood pressure drops with sudden position changes. Men sometimes have a lower level of testosterone, and postmenopausal women have sig-nificantly lower levels of estradiol, estrogen, and PRL. In both sexes, the relatively unchanging levels of cor-tisol results in an imbalance in hormone levels, which alters immune function.

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