If you’re trying to learn more about what to expect when you’re undergoing treatment to correct a hormonal imbalance, you’ve probably read that not all hormone therapies are created equal. More importantly, you’ve likely realized that many of the traditional treatments available to you can carry significant side effects and long-term risks. However, traditional hormones are not your only option. By understanding the benefits of bioidentical hormones, you can make an informed decision that will help you get the most out of hormone therapy while protecting your health and well-being.
Traditional hormonal therapies typically use hormones isolated from animal sources. On a chemical level, these hormones are very similar to the hormones produced by your body, causing your body to react to them much as it would to your own hormones. However, they are not an exact chemical match. In contrast, bioidentical hormones are made from plant-derived molecules and are chemically identical to human-produced hormones. As such, your body reacts to bioidentical hormones in exactly the same way as it would to your own hormones.
For most patients, these differences mean that the benefits of bioidentical hormones will exceed those of traditional hormonal therapy. As a result, even patients who have not had success with traditional treatment or have not felt comfortable trying it may find the relief they are looking for in bioidentical hormone therapy.
The Top 3 Benefits of Bioidentical Hormones
Even patients who are familiar with hormone therapy are often confused about the differences are between traditional and bioidentical hormones. While the chemistry behind these differences may be complex, the benefits of bioidentical hormones are clear:
- Better performance
- Fewer side effects
- Fewer long-term risks
These benefits translate into enhanced well-being, safely and effectively allowing you to feel like yourself again.
Bioidentical Hormones Perform Better
Patients undergoing hormone therapy overwhelmingly report that bioidentical hormones provide superior symptom relief than their non-bioidentical counterparts. For example, one study found that 71.8% of women experienced better relief of their menopause symptoms—including night sweats, low libido, and brain fog—with bioidentical hormones than with traditional hormone replacement therapy. Participants also reported that the incidence of side effects which they rated as “severe” decreased by 20% when taking the bioidentical hormones in comparison to traditional hormones at the same dose. Significantly, bioidentical hormones are customized for each patient, meaning that individuals are more likely to get the doses they need rather than a dose that might be excessive.
While menopause is a useful model for researchers investigating hormonal imbalances and therapies because it is a hormone-based phenomenon that is highly treatable and well-understood. As such, efficacy and side effect accounts found in studies on hormone replacement therapy and menopause often act as a critical source of information for those researching for a broad range of hormonal conditions.
The exact physiological basis for the improved efficacy of bioidentical hormones is unclear, but it is likely related to the fact that bioidentical hormones are chemically indistinguishable from human-produced hormones rather than merely very similar to them, as is the case with non-bioidentical hormones. In fact, patients can often take bioidentical hormones at lower doses than traditional hormones because the body’s response is more powerful, which may also help diminish side effects. Patients typically find a comfortable dose of bioidentical hormones by working with a doctor, leading to an optimal therapeutic experience.
Bioidentical Hormones Cause Fewer Side Effects
Most treatments for hormone imbalances have side effects, but bioidentical hormones tend to cause far fewer side effects than traditional hormones due to their closer likeness to human-produced hormones. For most patients, non-bioidentical hormones carry at least some degree side effects like high blood sugar, sexual dysfunction, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and acne as a result of their less precise and less efficient impact on the endocrine system. While typically mild, some patients experience severe and even dangerous side effects. Unfortunately, both mild and severe side effects are often deeply intertwined with therapeutic effect; if you don’t experience side effects on some level, there’s a good chance that the traditional hormones aren’t working for you, suggesting that a higher dose is necessary. Of course, this also raises the risk of disruptive side effects that compromise your health and quality of life.
If you end up struggling with side effects while taking traditional hormone therapy, they may not subside or become more tolerable with time. Although side effects may diminish over the course of treatment, others are chronic. Similarly, while some patients can effectively cope with side effects, others find that they become more grating over the course of treatment. While common side effects are rarely debilitating even when they stick around longer than you’d like, they can easily reduce your quality of life.
Given that you’ll probably be undergoing treatment for your hormonal imbalance for a long period of time, the possibility of fewer short-term side effects is one of the top benefits of bioidentical hormones. In a survey of women taking bioidentical hormones for the symptoms of menopause, 57.7% reported that the side effects of their bioidentical hormones were fewer in frequency than when they had undergone equivalent treatment with non-bioidentical hormones. So far, there’s no evidence that shows the side effects of bioidentical hormones differ from those of non-bioidentical hormones, though ongoing trials may soon shed light on whether this remains true over many years of treatment.
Bioidentical Hormones Carry Fewer Long-Term Risks
Despite the risk of side effects, treatment with traditional hormones can often treat your hormonal imbalances effectively in the short-term. However, even if traditional hormone therapy is tolerable in the short term, it carries risks that may compromise your health in the long run. Over the course of two to five years, these therapies may expose patients to an additional risk of heart troubles and breast cancers. The added cardiovascular disease risk is small but potentially severe and may include pulmonary embolism, stroke, and peripheral blood clots. Additionally, anywhere from 3.2% to 9.9% of women undergoing traditional hormone replacement therapy will develop breast cancer over a five-year period depending on the kind of hormones they are receiving; compared to women not undergoing hormonal therapies, the risk of developing breast cancer is as much as 48% higher.
One of the biggest benefits of bioidentical hormones is that they may carry a significantly lower risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases than non-bioidentical hormones. One retrospective study analyzing prior clinical trials concluded that using bioidentical hormones reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 35% in comparison to using non-bioidentical hormones. In terms of the cardiovascular risks, a study by the Women’s Health Initiative found that patients could face anywhere from 1.4 to 4 times the risk of having a serious cardiovascular event like a heart attack if they took non-bioidentical hormones rather than if they took bioidentical hormones.
While large clinical studies remain forthcoming, bioidentical hormones may also carry a lower risk of dementia and endometrial cancer, as well as other cancers associated with traditional hormone therapy. The longer your course of treatment, the more likely you are to benefit from the favorable safety profile bioidentical hormones provide due to the more precise dose calibration process. Patients who are on long courses of traditional hormones are forced to settle for doses that might be higher than what they medically need—thus exposing them to a greater risk than is necessary.
Getting the Right Care for Your Hormonal Imbalance
Regardless of the imbalance that is causing you to seek hormone therapy, you want to feel better in the short term, and you also want to be healthy in the long term. When your health is on the line, traditional hormones just aren’t enough. Between customizable treatment options, greater efficacy, fewer side effects, and fewer long-term risks, bioidentical hormones are a superior option for patients with hormonal imbalances. By choosing bioidentical hormones, you’ll also benefit from working hand-in-hand with a doctor who will calibrate your doses based on your individual needs rather than using a one-size-fits-all solution. As a result, you can be sure that you are getting truly transformative treatment designed to help you flourish.
If you are ready to take control of your hormonal imbalance with the expert guidance of a physician who specializes in bioidentical hormone therapy and integrative medicine, BodyLogicMD can offer the tailored care you are looking for. Our network is comprised of top medical professionals who are specially certified to help you achieve your health goals using customized treatment plans designed to fit your lifestyle. To begin your journey toward optimal wellness, contact a local practitioner to schedule your first appointment, or take our Hormone Balance Quiz to help assess your symptoms.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.