A single hormone in men can predict their future health: ScienceAlert

A single hormone in men can predict their future health: ScienceAlert

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A variety of age-related diseases – including bone weakness, sexual dysfunction, diabetes, craband cardiovascular disease—can be predicted by a single hormone that appears at a constant level in men throughout their lives, new research reveals.

This hormone is INSL3, and first appears during puberty. From that point on, its levels decline slightly in old age. This consistency, and the early age at which it appears, makes INSL3 valuable to scientists—and possibly to men’s health.

Someone with lower levels of INSL3 at a young age is likely to have lower levels of the hormone in old age, new research suggests. If this leads to a greater risk of health complications, as the study suggests, those health risks could potentially be managed many years earlier.

“Understanding why some people are more likely to develop disability and disease as they age is vital so that interventions can be found to ensure that people not only live long lives, but also healthy lives as they age, ” says reproductive endocrinologist Ravinder Anand-Ivel from the University of Nottingham in the UK.

“Our hormone discovery is an important step in understanding this and will pave the way not only for helping people individually, but also for alleviating the care crisis we face as a society.”

INSL3 is produced by the same cells in the testes that produce testosterone; unlike testosterone, INSL3 does not change when men become adults.

To monitor the level of INSL3 in the blood, the researchers took samples from more than 2,200 men at eight different regional centers in Europe. INSL3 levels in men remain stable over time and also vary widely between individuals, enough to distinguish health risks.

Researchers suggest that INSL3 levels in the blood reliably correlate with the number and health of Leydig cells in the testicles – the presence of fewer of these cells and less testosterone is also present is connected to multiple health problems in later life.

“Now that we know the important role this hormone plays in predicting disease and how it varies in men, we are now turning our attention to discovering the factors that have the greatest impact on the level of INSL3 in the blood.” says molecular endocrinologist Richard Eivel from the University of Nottingham.

“Preliminary work suggests that nutrition at an early age may play a role, but many other factors such as genetics or exposure to certain environmental endocrine disruptors may play a role.”

In nine disease categories that participants reported in the questionnaires, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, INSL3 was associated with an increased risk of disease in eight of them (only depression no correlation was found in this study).

But when the researchers adjusted for other hormonal and lifestyle factors, such as BMI and smoking status, most of these associations with INSL3 were lost, except for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

And testing whether INSL3 levels in blood samples from a subset of men could predict health outcomes roughly four years later, lower levels of the hormone were associated with seven of the nine categories of comorbidities. But again, this was without considering other factors.

One area the scientists want to explore in future studies is how INSL3 relates to sexual health, with its strong link to testosterone, but that wasn’t covered in detail in this particular study.

Future studies should also “focus on longer time periods to determine whether INSL3 measured in younger or middle-aged men … is truly predictive of the later onset of an age-related health problem,” the researchers I conclude.

If the link between INSL3 and these health risks is established through further studies, and scientists are able to pinpoint exactly why the link exists, it means preparations can be made much earlier to try to spot— and to stop – various age-related diseases so that problems do not occur.

“The holy grail of aging research is to narrow the fitness gap that occurs as people age,” says Anand-Ivel.

The study was published in Frontiers in Endocrinology.

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