Bioidentical hormone therapy has gained popularity over the last two decades, as both patients and physicians are seeking safer, more effective options for treating symptoms and conditions of aging. Recent surveys have shown that more than 40 percent of patients seeking hormone therapy are asking for bioidentical hormones, while nearly 65 percent of clinicians prefer to prescribe bioidentical hormones. The surge in bioidentical hormone prescriptions is concurrent with emerging evidence showing that bioidentical hormone therapy promotes safety, reduces or eliminates side effects, and delivers optimal results when compared to conventional forms of hormone therapy.
Side Effects of Hormone Therapy
Conventional (non-bioidentical) hormone therapy side effects are well documented. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) is the most well-known and widely-cited study demonstrating the risks associated with conventional forms of hormone therapy. The WHI, began in 1991, was the largest study ever to review the safety and efficacy of conventional hormone therapy. When it was halted early in 2002 due to an increased risk of cancer and stroke among subjects taking conventional forms of estrogen and/or progesterone, millions of physicians and patients became frightened of the treatment option.
Today, experts have reviewed the data and conducted lengthy meta-analyses of the WHI study, finding a number of flaws in the study’s design that contributed to the tragic outcomes. Nonetheless, the same risks have not been associated with bioidentical hormones. Unlike conventional hormones, bioidentical hormones are derived from natural sources, such as soy or yams, and created to be structurally identical to human endogenous hormones (the hormones produced naturally by your body). This structural duplication ensures that the supplemented hormones fit perfectly in each of the body’s hormone receptors to maintain optimal function.
The Path to Achieving Balance
Reaching optimal hormone levels takes time and you may have to endure a period of adjustment before you achieve that perfect balance. First, hormone levels must be tested and routinely assessed, along with your symptoms, to find the right dose for your prescription(s). During this time, hormonal imbalances may continue to occur or temporarily worsen. This is what makes ongoing communication with your practitioner paramount as well as routine attendance to follow-up appointments. Your practitioner will use these check-ins to make effective adjustments to your prescriptions and treatment plan in an effort to reach the ultimate goal: optimal hormone balance. The adverse effects that may occur depend upon which hormone levels remain unbalanced. While seeking optimal hormone balance with bioidentical hormone therapy, you may experience a variety of such effects, including but not limited to:
- Mood swings
- Increased acne
- Difficulty sleeping
- Breast tenderness
- Itching at the application site
It may be frustrating to continue to see the same kinds of symptoms for which you're seeking treatment, but as your testing continues and your hormone levels are adjusted, you will feel much better. Once your hormones have reached an ideal balance, you are likely to see a drastic reduction or complete absence of these adverse effects. The adjustment period may take several visits, but it is well worth the results.