Hormones fundamentally control the essential functions of your body’s systems. The endocrine system is the body’s collection of hormone-producing glands and, though tiny in size, these glands do everything from regulating your metabolism and allowing you to sleep to initiating labor.
However, when you develop a hormonal imbalance―as when you are approaching menopause―your body’s systems can be knocked out of whack and may not function optimally.
No hormone works in isolation. To function at peak efficiency, hormones have to work together in the proper ratios. In other words, the amount of each hormone must be at a level that enables it to function with another in a mutually supportive way. With the advent of menopause, however, these levels become disrupted. In particular, estrogen levels fall significantly. When this occurs, you may experience unpleasant and sometimes painful symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes and sweats, usually at their worst during the first 1 to 2 years after your last period
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems
- Reduced interest in sex
Depending on the severity of these symptoms, they can throw your life into upheaval. The good news is, hormone replacement can alleviate the pain, discomfort, exhaustion and disruption to your sex life that can arrive with menopause.
If you opt for hormone replacement, you have a choice: standard hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), which differ in significant ways. That said, there are conditions that contraindicate hormone replacement therapy. For example, you may not be a candidate for HRT if you:
- Think you are pregnant
- Have problems with vaginal bleeding
- Have had cancer
- Have had a stroke or heart attack
- Have had blood clots
- Have liver disease
You and your healthcare provider need to discuss the risks and benefits of treating hormonal imbalance with hormone replacement therapy. If you do decide to try HRT, always seek the lowest dose possible, and take it for the shortest time possible. This helps lower any potential health risks.
As you consider your options―HRT or BHRT―you will need to decide: Which is best for you? Which is safer?
What’s the Difference Between Bioidentical Hormones and Synthetic Hormones?
Both bioidentical hormones and synthetic hormones are created in labs, but synthetic hormones are not identical to natural hormones. In contrast, bioidentical hormones match human hormones, molecule by molecule. Bioidentical hormones are exact structural replicas of the natural hormones produced by your body.
Depending on your individual symptoms, your BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner may prescribe bioidentical hormones, which may include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones, DHEA, melatonin, or others as needed.
Let’s consider more closely how the differences between bioidentical hormones and synthetic hormones impact their respective safety profiles.
Because synthetic, or conventional, hormones are not created to be the same as naturally occurring, or endogenous, hormones, they can lead to uncomfortable side effects. Additionally, synthetic. hormones are patented by pharmaceutical companies before marketing. That means the molecular structure of the prescribed hormone is the same for every single person on that drug, and the dosage cannot be adjusted to meet individual needs.
While synthetic hormones can mimic the effects of the hormones your own body creates, they rarely offer the same effectiveness of endogenous or bioidentical hormones.
Since bioidentical hormones are an exact structural replica of endogenous hormones, side effects occur less frequently with their usage. A second layer of security is that your needs determine the specific dosage. What’s more, in the event you do experience side effects, your BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner may simply need to adjust your dose. You have dosage options, which is not the case with synthetic hormones.
Problems With Synthetic Hormones
One of the most commonly prescribed synthetic hormones for women, premarin, contains a mix of estrogens derived from horse urine and synthetic additives―ingredients unique to horses, steroids, and various other substances. Many people are uninterested in taking a substance originating from a different species, often obtained via inhumane practices.
Progestins, the synthetic version of the naturally-occurring female reproductive hormone progesterone, were initially designed to counteract certain unwanted effects of estrogen in reproductive tissues, particularly in the uterus. Newer versions of progestins have been developed for use both in contraception and in hormone replacement therapy during menopause.
Though progestins were developed to target the uterus, their use affects every major organ system, including the brain, the cardiovascular system, the immune system and the generation of blood cells. As in other systems, progestins have unique effects on the brain which ultimately could impact the long-term neurological health of users. With growing concerns over dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to keep these factors in mind when consulting with a doctor about hormone therapies.
Choosing Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
It’s only natural that many women and men, when they learn how synthetic hormones are produced and the effects they might have on organs, including the brain, might turn to bioidentical hormones as a less risky option.
An alternative to synthetic hormones is bioidentical hormone therapy. It is not only safer, but it has been shown to be more effective than synthetic treatments. A significant number of research studies show that the number of side effects and other negative outcomes are less in bioidentical hormones compared to synthetic hormones.
Bioidentical hormones are also created from natural sources. Most commonly, they are derived from soy and yams. In addition, their molecular structure is identical to the hormones produced in the body. This means that when bioidentical hormones enter the body, they are able to fit in the body’s hormone receptors. This exact fit means that the body can function at an optimal level.
Yet, whenever you undertake any treatment, it’s vital to keep in mind that nothing — no herb, supplement, or drug — is guaranteed absolutely safe. Nor is any treatment appropriate for every individual. If you seek hormone therapy, choose a medical professional with expert training in hormone health, and make sure that this person reviews your condition and medical history carefully and thoroughly before prescribing or administering any treatment.
It is also important to bear in mind that not all bioidentical hormones are alike. They are created in compounding laboratories, and dosages are set by a practicing physician. This is why it is incredibly important that you work with a professional, such as those with BodyLogicMD, who is well-versed in hormone replacement therapy and understands how best to prescribe bioidentical hormones to meet individual needs.
What Are the Side Effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
With any hormone replacement therapy, there can be side effects, including:
- Mood swings
- Increased acne
- Difficulty sleeping
- Breast tenderness
- Itching at the application site
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or have tested positive for an abnormal breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2) and are at high risk, you probably shouldn’t use conventional HRT, but only you and your physician can make this decision based on your particular case and a full evaluation of the risks and benefits.
Is bioidentical hormone therapy is right for your health? You’re only person who can decide. However, practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network are equipped to help you make that choice. In many cases, the best treatment plan may include bioidentical hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, and professionals with specialized training in hormonal balance, like those affiliated with BodyLogicMD, can offer you that expertise.
Once I Choose BHRT, What’s Next?
Following testing of your hormone levels, your practitioner will sit with you and discuss in detail the results of your lab tests. Together, you will review your medical history and spend time to understand your lifestyle, symptoms, and your goals for treatment. You will evaluate the various therapies available to treat your medical concerns, ameliorate your menopausal symptoms and enhance your wellbeing. Comprehensive review and knowledge of your needs sets the BodyLogicMD network physicians apart from other bioidentical hormone doctors.
Bioidentical estradiol (one form of estrogen), which some practices prescribe alone for menopausal women, is not the likely solution to maximize your health. In fact, if you still have your uterus, estrogen taken alone can put you at risk of uterine cancer. Your BodyLogicMD doctor may incorporate other hormones to restore optimal hormonal balance, as well as customized nutrition recommendations and fitness regimens to support achievement of your goals.
A BodyLogicMD professional will also help you add any needed supplements to your diet. Of course, eating a wholesome, balanced diet is the best way to get the nutrients your body needs―but there are some vitamins that aren’t easy to get in edible form. Vegetarians, for example, often don’t get adequate amounts of Vitamin B12 or iron.
Menopausal women have their own challenges when it comes to ensuring their systems are being supported by the right mix of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of menopausal and post-menopausal women. The professionals at BodyLogicMD are here to help you develop a plan that is unique to your situation and is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
The healthcare professionals affiliated with BodyLogicMD all complete extensive training in the science of hormones and meet requirements for the Fellowship in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine program, which focuses solely on bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. No other team matches the rigorous standards of BodyLogicMD-affiliated physicians.