You probably know the saying, “Everything gets better with age.” While that may be true for fine wines, grandchildren, and more, it directly contradicts what you experience in your body. Middle age is the time when most people begin to notice gradual deterioration of their bodily functions. As you age, hormone production gets impaired. Hormones control almost all tasks in the body – including sex, growth, brain function, and the breakdown of food. Hormone imbalance invariably leads to a series of undesirable symptoms.
To ease these symptoms, many people opt for hormone replacement therapies (HRT). While there are several HRTs, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BRHT) has garnered impressive attention in the past few decades. This post explores what bioidentical hormones are, how they are made, and their overall safety.
What are Bioidentical Hormones?
Bioidentical hormones are hormones that are chemically identical to those produced in the body. Bioidentical hormones are derived from naturally-occurring sources, such as soy or yams. Although they are produced in the laboratory, bioidentical hormones mimic the hormones naturally produced in the body. This way, the body wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the hormones it produces and bioidentical ones.
Common examples of biomedical hormones include:
- 17 beta estradiols, found in drugs like Estrace, Estradiol, and Estring
- Estradiol hemihydrate, such as Vagifem
- Estradiol acetate, such as Femring
- Micronized progesterone USP, including Prometrium and Prochieve
Some big pharmaceutical companies manufacture bioidentical hormones, which is strictly regulated by the FDA. However, a class referred to as ‘compounded bioidentical hormones’ are not regulated by the FDA.
Differences between bioidentical hormones and synthetic hormones.
The main distinguishing factor is that bioidentical hormones are made from the exact chemical and molecular structure of compounds found in the human body. On the other hand, synthetic hormones contain substances that do not naturally occur in the human body. For instance, Premarin is made from the urine of pregnant horses, and it is used as a replacement estrogen.
What are Bioidentical Hormones Used For?
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is primarily used to ease symptoms of perimenopause and menopause in women. As the ovaries start to produce less estrogen in the moments leading up to menopause, the hormone imbalance is responsible for several symptoms. Bioidentical hormone therapy can help to:
- Improve sex drive
- Reduce fatigue
- Minimize hot flashes
- Improve sleep
- Reduce bloating
- Prevent hair thinning
- Improve memory.
Asides from menopause-related symptoms, hormone replacement therapy may also reduce your risk for tooth loss, diabetes, and cataracts. Some research indicates it may also help improve hydration, enhance skin condition, and even reduce wrinkles.
When is Using Bioidentical Hormones Appropriate?
Different bodies react to bioidentical hormones differently. And so, the safety of bioidentical hormones is still debated in the medical community. That’s why many women prefer to seek other treatment options when perimenopause symptoms start.
However, traditional treatment options may not work for you. If that happens, you may want to consider biomedical hormones. To improve the efficacy of biomedical hormones, here are some lifestyle changes you should consider before undergoing replacement therapy.
- Taking vitamin supplements
- Exercising more frequently
- Eating a balanced diet
- Reducing stress and anxiety
How are Bioidentical Hormones Used?
Bioidentical hormones can be used in different forms, depending on the specific symptoms that are being targeted. Some of the common forms include:
Before bioidentical hormones are administered, the doctor will carefully test for your hormone levels through your saliva or blood sample. This will help determine the specific ingredients and quantity needed. As treatment proceeds, hormone levels are periodically monitored to ensure no complications arise.
Compounded Bioidentical Hormones
These are bioidentical hormones made by a compounding pharmacist in the exact strength and dosage as prescribed by a practitioner. These hormones are blended in a specific combination that is suited for each woman.
Their main benefit is they can be made without certain allergens. However, compounded bioidentical hormones are not regulated by the FDA. Moreover, little research exists to support their efficacy. That’s why major medical bodies such as the North American Menopause Society and the Endocrine Society have warned against the use of custom-compounded hormones.
Side Effects and Risk of Bioidentical Hormones
It’s important to note that while the FDA has approved some preparations of bioidentical estradiol and progesterone, it hasn’t approved any compounded bioidentical hormones.
Bioidentical hormone therapy is commonly touted as being better than traditional hormone replacement. However, no conclusive study exists to support this claim.
Some of the reported side effects associated with hormone therapy include:
- Blood clot
- Gallbladder disease
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- More facial hair in women.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may help people with symptoms associated with low or unbalanced levels of hormones. Due to the numerous side effect associated with biomedical hormones, medical advice must be sought before proceeding with treatment.
In general, women should avoid bioidentical hormones if possible because there is not enough conclusive evidence to suggest that they are effective or safe. Even if you must go the BHRT route, you should use the smallest dose that proves effective in the shortest possible time.
As more research into bioidentical hormones continues, they may eventually conclusively prove to the safe and effective in the future. We’re here to help. Contact us today for more information.