Are Bioidentical Hormones Right for You?
Bioidentical hormone therapy has been billed as an alternative to traditional hormone replacement therapy in recent years. Its popularity continues to grow as more women request it for the treatment of menopausal symptoms like hormone headaches, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.
Just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective or safe. In this article, we’ll explore what bioidentical hormone therapy is and whether it’s right for you.
Bioidentical hormone therapy defined
Bioidentical hormone therapy, or BHT, is a prescription drug regimen for women in menopause. It uses drugs with the same molecular structure as the natural female hormones your body produced before menopause.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t permit drug companies to legally patent bioidentical formulas because they use compounded drugs, which aren’t FDA-approved. So drug makers developed synthetic versions instead, which you probably recognize as traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Bioidentical hormone replicas
Bioidentical hormone therapy uses a bioidentical replica of estrogen and progesterone. Women who have not yet entered menopause naturally produce these two reproductive hormones.
Several estrogen-like bioidentical hormones are available for use in these formulations. Most are derived from soybeans or wild yams. However, only one progesterone-like bioidentical hormone exists. Most women who use bioidentical hormones choose ones that include both estrogen and progesterone.
FDA-approved bioidentical hormones
Some bioidentical hormones are FDA-approved, so you can get them with a prescription at any neighborhood pharmacy. Other forms must be specially formulated at a compounding pharmacy. The pharmacist follows a prescribing doctor’s specific instructions for combining the correct dosage and types of bioidentical hormones.
How compounded hormones work
Compounding isn’t a new thing. It’s been around since the 19th century. A licensed pharmacist creates a pharmaceutical cocktail that meets your unique healthcare needs when an existing commercially available drug can’t meet those needs. They follow the explicit directions of a medical doctor to prepare the concoction.
Using this method, compounding pharmacists can:
- Add flavoring to the medication to make it more palatable.
- Change the form of medication (a solid to a liquid).
- Customize the strength or dosage of a medication.
- Reformulate the drug to exclude ingredients that can trigger patient allergies.
Safety of compounded medications
Some people question the safety of compounding pharmacies and can be hesitant to use their services. There’s no reason to fear using a compounding pharmacy when necessary because there is oversight of these facilities. The practice is regulated by the state boards of pharmacies for each individual state.
The issue of “natural” when considering bioidentical hormones
Bioidentical hormones don’t exist in nature. For instance, bioidentical estrogen is made with chemicals extracted from soy and yams. Similarly, bioidentical progesterone is finely ground in a laboratory so that it can be more easily absorbed by your body.
While bioidentical hormones may not be natural, they do behave just like natural hormones. Blood tests that measure your overall estrogen levels can’t tell the difference between naturally-produced estrogen and bioidentical estrogen.
Bioidentical hormones vs. hormone replacement therapy
Studies suggest that bioidentical hormones can help relieve hot flashes and combat the many causes of vaginal dryness. However, there aren’t enough studies to establish the relative safety of traditional hormone therapy replacement versus bioidentical hormone therapy.
Some experts believe that because bioidentical hormones are perfect replicas of your body’s hormones, you can metabolize them more easily and completely. However, the FDA has gone on the record to state it doesn’t believe bioidentical hormones are any safer than traditional hormone replacement therapy.
Regardless, most physicians discourage women from using bioidentical hormone therapy indefinitely to reduce the risk of side effects.
Side effects of bioidentical hormone therapy
As with any hormone, there are risks to using bioidentical hormone therapy. It can increase your chances of developing blood clots, having a stroke, or getting gallbladder disease. If you’re older or use bioidentical hormone therapy for a prolonged period, you also can put yourself at greater risk for breast cancer or heart disease.
Alternatives to bioidentical hormones
Menopause is a natural and normal part of a healthy woman’s life. For many, bioidentical hormone therapy makes it more comfortable. If you’re worried about the risks, you can opt for a chemical-free vaginal moisturizer like Crème de la Femme.
The silky-soft feminine gel cream was formulated by a woman doctor more than 30 years ago and is a favorite with women nationwide. It temporarily and naturally relieves vaginal dryness with a blend of four simple ingredients.
Some other natural alternatives include:
- Black cohosh provides relief from hot flashes, insomnia, and vaginal dryness.
- Soy mimics natural estrogen and can reduce the severity of all menopause symptoms.
Whatever you choose to do to manage your menopause symptoms, be sure to consult with your doctor first to avoid choosing a supplement or product that can interfere with any prescription medications or diagnosed health conditions.
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