Bioidentical hormones: An alternative to conventional hormone replacement therapy?

By: Health Local Staff May 16, 2011
  Article
menopause

Suzanne Somers and Oprah Winfrey swear it is the best thing since sliced bread. But is it right for you? Here's what you need to know about bioidentical hormones.

As varied as women are, so too are the symptoms experienced by each of us during menopause. Some women can skate through menopause with minimal discomfort while others are hit with an onslaught of extremely unpleasant days and nights. Of course unpleasant is what one might call, “in the eye of the beholder,” just as labor and having a monthly period are.

Apart from the hot flashes that can come and go at whim and wake a woman up two to three times a night, there are other equally dreadful symptoms. Aches, pains both in the breasts and joints, accompanied by memory loss or fog, weight gain (no matter how much exercise is added) and for some depression can set in. Whether the symptoms themselves bring on the depression (who wouldn’t be depressed when in pain, getting little to no sleep and is drenched in sweat all the time) or whether it’s chemical, is almost a moot point. It’s there.

For many, the unpleasantness can last for a few months or literally a few years. Many things determine whose change of life will be a walk in the park vs. a living hell. Indeed chemical composition (hormonal, endocrinal for example), family history, overall health (weight, regular exercise, diet, etc.) and of course emotional and mental states of mind can all have bearing. It isn’t as though one thing can determine this and therefore one “a one-size fits” all remedy can be prescribed.

At some point during menopause, for those who fall into the living hell category have to ask themselves some tough questions. Weighing the risks against quality of life, many opt for hormone replacement therapy. Why not? Assuming the breast cancer risk is minimal in a particular woman’s case, why on earth would she willingly sign up for hellish days and nights?

Unless you have been purposely avoiding television, newspapers (online or print), magazines and social media, you have no doubt heard about bioidentical hormones (bHRT). Suzanne Somers (surely if you are in menopause, you are old enough to have seen at least one episode of Three’s Company) and Oprah Winfrey (every woman’s favorite “can we sit in your living room and have a good heart to heart?”) talk show host swear that it is the best thing since sliced bread. And for many, it may very well might be. In fact, Suzanne loves it so much that she has written a few books on the topic. She’s that Gung-Ho about bHRT.

What is bHRT and is it safe to use?
Would it surprise you to know that bHRT have been used for nearly 25 years to relieve menopause symptoms? Plant derived, they, like conventional synthetic hormones, are made in a laboratory. What appears to make them vastly different from traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is that they are customized for women. Unlike synthetic hormones, which are typically one size fits all or perhaps most, bHRT matches molecule for molecule what a woman’s body is lacking hormonally. In the same manner that was described above that all women’s chemical compositions are different, treating her symptoms in this manner allows for more a more targeted attack of her symptoms.

Many women, including Somers and Winfrey, report that they have never felt better. More alive and rejuvenated, no hot flashes, no pain and feeling different than they did on conventional HRT, the number of prescriptions being filled continues to increase year over year.

The controversy and the risks: show me the data!
Many doctors and researchers claim that bHRT is not FDA approved. This isn’t true, in fact there are over 20 varieties of bHRT that are FDA approved. Some papers, including the Endocrine Society Position Statement, claimed not only are bHRT ineffective; they are unsafe. As it happens, there is data that proves quite the opposite.

In the 25 years that women worldwide have been using bHRT for their menopause, not a single one has complained of them being unsafe or made claims that support these papers. The FDA, who keeps a log of all adverse events for drugs, confirms that none have been reported to them. 

In 2009, the Holtorf Medical Group, located in Torrance, CA, sponsored a study of 200 participants. Some women were given conventional HRT, others bHRT and others a placebo. At the conclusion, they determined that while bHRT was not considered to be neither more or less efficacious than traditional HRT, the risk associated with breast cancer of conventional HRT, appeared to be dramatically reduced with bHRT.

Other studies looking at long-term results of using bHRT continue to be conducted.

Clearly Oprah Winfrey, Suzanne Somers, women who have been part of clinical studies and those who have been on bHRT for the last 25 years can’t be crazy. If you are a woman who is going through hell with menopause and you are considering bHRT over HRT, given the data out there indicating that it is both safe and effective, it boils down to this: “Why not?” It won’t hurt, it might help, it may actually be as wonderful as many women claim.

About the only drawback is that many western medicine trained doctors are still unfamiliar with bHRT or continue to believe the bad hype about them. A quick google search of bHRT or bioidentical hormones will get you tons of helpful information. If you are interested in knowing more, it’s out there!

The Health Local Staff is a team of writers and experts dedicated to bringing you the latest health, nutrition and lifestyle information at www.healthlocal.ca.