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Are Bioidentical Hormones Right for You?

Bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) is a popular health topic these days. Certainly a growing number of women are choosing to use it. Why? Because it relieves annoying and uncomfortable menopause symptoms like hot flashes, hormone headaches, and menopausal vaginal dryness.

First of all, what is bioidentical hormone therapy?

BHT is a prescription drug regimen for women in menopause. It uses drugs with the same molecular structure as natural female hormones — the ones your body produced on its own before menopause. Since drug companies cannot legally patent a bioidentical formula, they have developed synthetic versions. These are the drugs prescribed in traditional hormone replacement therapy.

Just as young women produce two major reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone), BHT uses a bioidentical replica of each. A number of estrogen-like bioidentical hormones are available. And one progesterone-like bioidentical hormone is available. Most women using bioidenticals take one of each.

Some bioidentical hormones are FDA-approved. That means you can get them with a prescription at any neighborhood pharmacy. Others must be specially formulated at a compounding pharmacy, according to a doctor’s specific instructions.

What exactly are “compounded” hormones?

They are a special bioidentical hormones for patients who need individualized drug combinations or doses. For example, if you have an allergy to one of the ingredients in an FDA-approved bioidentical product, then your doctor can send you to a compounding pharmacy where they can formulate pills or creams without that ingredient.

Is bioidentical hormone therapy natural?

Bioidentical hormones do not exist in nature. For instance, bioidentical estrogen is made with chemicals extracted from yams and soy. Similarly, bioidentical progesterone is finely ground in a laboratory so that it can be more easily absorbed by the body. Therefore, in some real ways, bioidentical hormones are not natural. Nevertheless, they do behave just like natural hormones. And a blood test that measures your overall estrogen level will not be able to distinguish between bioidentical estrogen and whatever natural estrogen your body has produced on its own.

Is BHT safer than traditional hormone replacement?

Studies suggest that bioidentical hormones can help relieve hot flashes and combat the many causes of vaginal dryness. Nevertheless, large studies have not established the relative safety of traditional hormone replacement versus bioidentical hormone therapy. Because bioidentical hormones are perfect duplicates of your body’s own hormones, some experts say you can metabolize them easily and completely. That, they say, minimizes adverse side effects.

Finally, can bioidentical hormone therapy be used permanently?

Some doctors argue that bioidentical hormones are as safe (or dangerous) as more traditional hormone therapy. So they probably expose women to similar health risks. These physicians usually discourage patients from using bioidenticals indefinitely.

Other doctors disagree. New York’s Erika Schwartz, MD, is one of them. She supports long-term bioidentical therapy. She has prescribed them for over 20 years and takes them herself. “I feel great and the women I work with feel great,” she says.

What’s the takeaway?

Menopause is natural and a normal part of a healthy woman’s life. For many, bioidentical hormone therapy helps make it more comfortable and fulfilling. So can a chemical-free vaginal moisturizer like Crème de la Femme, a favorite with women nationwide. This silky-soft feminine gel-cream was formulated by a woman doctor over 30 years ago. It temporarily relieves vaginal dryness with a blend of just 4 simple ingredients. You can apply daily to keep tissue healthy.  Or use it only before intercourse, when you need moisture most. Either way, the sheer moisture will last for hours.

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