When people think about the effects of aging they most typically think of the changes to their physical appearance. The growth of grey hair and the appearance of wrinkles are the typical attributes that people think of.
While these outward signs are definitely a result of aging, there are many other parts of the body that are impacted by the process of aging. One system that is not normally at the forefront of people’s minds is the effects of aging on the reproductive system.
Changes to the reproductive system are actually a large component of the aging process and age has a direct effect on the changes experienced by the reproductive system. This unique interdependent relationship between age and the reproductive system is unique and complex.
Below is a breakdown of what the reproductive system consists of, how aging impacts the system, and ways in which you can support your reproductive health as you age.
What does the reproductive system consist of?
The reproductive system is a subset of the human body that is responsible for the facilitation of reproduction and proliferation. The reproductive system is closely tied together with both the urinary and endocrine systems of the body.
Males and females both contain a reproductive system but differ in the specific organs and function. Below is a breakdown of the male and female reproductive systems. Understanding the structures and what constitutes the reproductive system can allow for a better understanding of how it is impacted by aging.
The main components in the male reproductive system are the penis, testis, and prostate. These structures work together to allow males to reproduce.
The testis is immensely important as they are where spermatogenesis occurs and where the sex hormone testosterone is released. Both the penis and prostate allow for the sperm produced in the testes to be delivered outside of the body.
Spermatogenesis begins during adolescence and typically will continue for the rest of their life. The constant production of testosterone and spermatogenesis is an important aspect of male reproductive health.
The female reproductive system consists of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, and mammary glands. The ovaries are the structures that release eggs that are then transferred down the fallopian tubes to the uterus where a fertilized egg would attach to the uterus. The ovaries are also the structure responsible for the sex hormone estrogen.
As opposed to men, the female reproductive system has structures that are needed to support life from fertilization all the way to early childhood. Where men experience a fairly constant sex hormone level, female hormone levels operate in a cycle which enables the reproductive system the opportunity to build the endometrium within the uterus and cause the release of an egg from the ovary.
The cycle stated above is called the menstrual cycle and it typically begins during adolescence and ends in your 40s or 50s. As opposed to men, women are born with a finite number of sex cells and is part of the reason that the menstrual cycle does not continue throughout life.
How does aging impact the reproductive system?
Both the male and female reproductive systems have fairly similar responses to the aging process. The first main response that the reproductive system has to age is puberty. Puberty is the process of sexual maturation where males begin spermatogenesis, and females begin menstruation. During puberty, physiological changes occur simultaneously due to the increase in sex hormone levels.
Secondary sex characteristics are typically developed during this time. For males, this includes deepening of the voice, increased body hair, and an increase in muscle mass. For females, this includes the development of breasts, an increase in pubic hair, and widening of the hips.
After puberty, both males and females enter a steady state where the reproductive system is matured and continually undergoing their given processes. For men, this includes continual spermatogenesis and release of testosterone, and for women includes the process of menstruation and cyclical changes in hormones. These are the ideal conditions to conceive as the body is fully matured and is best set up for reproduction.
As you continue to age the reproductive system operates in a similar way but can become less potent. Decreases in the sex hormones are a common result of aging, and for females, this decrease can be an early indication of menopause which is the cessation of menstruation.
How you can support your reproductive health
The general journey the reproductive system takes throughout life is common across people. While these are general trends, issues can arise within the reproductive system.
The best way to avoid these issues and support your reproductive health is to live a healthy lifestyle, get regular checkups, and stay on top of your reproductive health.
Food is an essential aspect of life, and the food choices you make have a direct impact on your health. When looking at foods to support your reproductive system it can be difficult to know what foods are beneficial and which are detrimental.
Generally speaking, finding foods that are healthy and full of whole foods is a good place to start. If the food is healthy for you, your reproductive system will most likely benefit. The reproductive system is interconnected to the circulatory, endocrine, and urinary systems of the body.
Getting all of the necessary micronutrients through the foods you eat can be a difficult task to undertake. Taking supplements can help get all of these nutrients into your body where they can be used. MitoQ is a great supplement to consider to assist with your overall health and well-being. MitoQ works by selectively supporting the powerhouse of the cell known as the mitochondria. By giving a helping antioxidant hand to your mitochondria, it allows your cells to have the energy they need to function at their best. In non-human studies, MitoQ has shown to help support reproductive health by supporting the mitochondria. It is important to note that these findings have yet to translate to human studies. Despite this, MitoQ is a great supplement that can help support your overall wellbeing.
Regular checkups with a doctor are a key aspect of preventative medicine. Preventative medicine is a medical approach that focuses on the early detection and prevention of disease. This is a much better approach than reactive medicine because more severe health complications and more invasive treatments can generally be avoided.
Regular checkups typically consist of assessments that aim to determine if the body is operating optimally or if there is some kind of deviance. Heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and lung sounds are a few examples of the things you could expect during a physical exam. Physicians also take into account any complaints or family history to determine if further testing is needed.
The ultimate goal during an annual physical is to catch issues before they progress and essentially give you a report card on your health. The reproductive system is a complex system that relies on many other bodily systems to function at its best. Getting regular checkups is a great way to ensure that your reproductive health and supporting systems are at their best.
Exercise has beneficial impacts on your body. By pushing your body physically it becomes adapted to working harder and improves. Circulatory, respiratory, muscles, and bones can all benefit from regular exercise.
Due to the interconnected nature of the reproductive system, improvements to your general health will typically have positive impacts on your reproductive system.
Sleep is important because it is a period of time in which the body performs many behind-the-scenes processes that are important to day-to-day functioning. Many people know that sleep is important in feeling awake and attentive, but many do not know that the health benefits of sleep are much more far-reaching.
Reproductive health is actually heavily impacted by your sleep patterns. Research has shown that sleep plays an integral role in the balance of sex hormones within the body. Altered amounts of sex hormones could lead to reproductive issues.
Getting quality sleep is a great way to support your reproductive and general wellbeing. For adults eight hours of sleep is a great amount of sleep to shoot for. Here is a guide for how to get the perfect night’s sleep.
In summary, aging has profound effects on the human body. The reproductive system is one bodily system that encounters alterations as a result of aging. While males and females have different reproductive organs, time and external factors can affect them equally.
The best way to support your reproductive health is to live a healthy lifestyle and to stay on top of your health. Getting regular checkups, eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep are actions you can take to help support healthy reproductive health.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.