Menopause like puberty, is when a woman’s body undergoes a change – and with it comes hormonal fluctuations. When hormones become imbalanced or decreased, it can leave you feeling tired, depressed, irritable and unable to function properly. The ovaries which produce estrogen, progesterone and androgens, including testosterone as part of the menstrual cycle, help keep the body in sync. As the ovaries begin to age and slow down, they release fewer eggs and produce lower levels of hormones, which leads to symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irregular periods and insomnia. If left unattended for too long, more severe health issues can develop.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been around for many years to help relieve the symptoms of menopause and regulate hormonal imbalances, but not without its fair share of controversy. In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative Study which was investigating the effects of taking estrogen plus progestin in the form of a pill called Prempro, was terminated due the higher risk of women developing blood clots, breast cancer or having a stroke or a heart attack. A similar study which evaluated the effects of estrogen only in a tablet form called Premarin, showed a higher risk of developing a stroke or blood clots but no increased risk of a heart attack or cancer.
Due to the cessation of such a large study, the advantages and disadvantages of undergoing hormone replacement therapy has been a widely discussed topic for medical professionals and patients. In the past, HRT was prescribed to prevent heart disease, but this is no longer the case as the chemical makeup of the synthetic HRT in fact increases various health risks. Women who enter menopause early due to a surgical procedure such as a hysterectomy, have been advised to undergo HRT in order to prevent the onset of certain diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to conventional HRT which are more natural, called bio-identical hormones. These hormones are synthesized from a plant chemical extracted from soy and yams and are identical in molecular structure to the hormones produced by a woman’s body. The body uses these hormones in the same way it uses hormones that are naturally produced and cannot differentiate between the two. Blood tests reveal that the total estrodial level in the body includes both the bioidentical and the natural estrogen produced, which enables a patient to be treated on an individual basis according to their hormonal needs.
Bioidentical hormones have been used for decades and have shown to have fewer risks and side effects compared to synthetic hormones. Bioidentical estrogen includes 17 beta-estradiol, estrone and estriol, which is much safer and better tolerated than estrogen from conventional HRT which is obtained from of a pregnant mare’s urine. Bioidentical progesterone is made from simple progesterone as opposed to synthetic progestins used in regular HRT, and has no known cancer risk. It should be taken together with bioidentical estrogen, as there is no bioidentical hormone combination available presently. There are a number of bioidentical hormones that are FDA approved and can be obtained with a prescription, as well as a variety that have been compounded. One size doesn’t fit all and compounded bioidentical hormones can be tailor made specifically for a patient according to a clinician’s prescription, however they are not FDA approved or regulated.
There are various methods of delivery available including topical gels, capsules, topical creams, troches and patches. When taking estrogen in pill form, it is first processed by the liver which can cause health issues, whereas the hormones are absorbed directly into the bloodstream when using gels, creams and patches. Your physician can advise you on the best form of delivery.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can balance and restore hormone levels to increase quality of life and help protect you from chronic diseases. As there are a variety of options available nowadays, no woman should feel compelled to use the conventional mainstream method of therapy without researching other options that are available, and making a calculated and informed decision to fit your specific needs.
To learn more about addressing hormone related problems and the various treatment options that are available, please contact our clinic.