There can be something uncomfortable and even frightening about your body changing. After all, your body is all you really own and when changes happen outside your control, it’s easy to be disoriented and feel like you’ve lost yourself.
For many women, this is exactly what happens as estrogen drops in the years leading up to menopause. Loss of estrogen can have dramatic effects, making you feel disconnected, uncomfortable, in pain, and worse. And while hormone replacement therapy is an option, it may seem intimidating, particularly if you’re worried about risks to your health.
It’s common to be apprehensive about hormone treatments and, with such a dizzying array of options available, you might not know what is the safest route. But you are not alone in your concerns—and they don’t have to keep you from finding relief from your symptoms. Researchers are continuously investigating how hormones can be used to improve well-being while minimizing health risks. In recent years much of that research has sought to answer one question in particular: is transdermal estrogen safer than oral estrogen therapy? The answer appears to be “yes”.
The Issues Arising From Low Estrogen
We all know that menopause brings changes. But why exactly? Why do women go through this change in life? It all has to do with hormones—most significantly, a reduction in estrogen.
It’s important to note that the relationship between estrogen loss and menopause is often misunderstood. Menopause doesn’t cause estrogen loss; it is the other way around. Estrogen is produced in the female body and kickstarts puberty, regulates the menstrual cycle, and plays a critical role in pregnancy. But its production starts to diminish as we age. When production of estrogen slows down, the menstrual cycle can become dysregulated and eventually ceases altogether. In other words, menopause is only the end result of a process that typically takes place over many years.
Falling estrogen levels can cause all kinds of uncomfortable side effects. Your body, after all, is used to a certain status quo and even though estrogen loss is natural, it isn’t always easy. Some of the effects of estrogen loss include:
- Hot flashes
- Lower sex drive
- Fatigue, irritation, and headaches
- Weight gain
- Sexual discomfort and vaginal dryness
- Anxiety and depression
These symptoms can have a significant impact on your wellbeing. After all, your body, your sex drive, your enjoyment of life, and your overall outlook are key and vital parts of your sense of self. That’s why hormone replacement therapy can be more than a life-changer.
Bioidentical Hormone Treatment and the Recovery of Self
There are many ways these days to replace hormones. Perhaps the most exciting avenue of this field is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). This sounds like a mouthful, but it really is exactly what it sounds like: a way to replace the hormones that have been lost, using hormones that are chemically identical to those produced by your body.
During your fertile years, your ovaries produced a cocktail of hormones that was in balance with what you needed. These hormones were designed, so to speak, for your body. The great thing is that these levels aren’t closely-guarded secrets, or somehow unknowable. Your ovaries didn’t patent the formula. It can be replicated. That’s what BHRT does: it restores your hormone levels with hormones identical to the ones produced by your ovaries, indistinguishable from natural structures. By working with a practitioner who specializes in this kind of hormone therapy, you can receive the right level of estrogen for your body.
What does that mean? It means a reduction or reversal of the symptoms that have made you feel like someone different. It could mean feeling like yourself once again. That’s exciting. But, of course, safety is paramount.
Is Transdermal Estrogen Safer for You?
We know that estrogen therapy can be powerful. But it can also come with risks. However, a growing body of research suggests that the risks many have associated with estrogen therapy in general may actually be associated with specific administration methods, particularly oral administration. What’s more, transdermal estrogen appears to sidestep many of these risks.
Transdermal estrogen is administered in several different ways, including patches and creams. The patch administers estrogen into the bloodstream, where it acts in the same manner as if produced by the ovaries. Significantly, the estrogen is delivered at a more consistent rate than is possible via oral or injections, minimizing the risk of discomfort caused by rapid hormonal fluctuation.
Consistency is also why bioidentical transdermal estrogen is often preferred over conventional vaginal treatments. With conventional vaginal creams, it can be very easy to apply too much, or to use it too often, potentially compromising your results. Additionally, as noted in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “The vaginal estrogen creams on the market in the United States are designed to deliver estrogen at doses higher than those recommended for the treatment of atrophic vaginitis.” While this isn’t always immediately dangerous, it may produce unwelcome side effects. Bioidentical creams can avoid this issue because the dose can be tailored to the needs of each patient rather than being available in only a limited range of pre-manufactured dosages, which may minimize the risk of side-effects.
But the benefits of transdermal estrogen aren’t limited to short-term side effects; research shows that it has fewer serious health risks than many other methods. For example, a large-scale study in the UK found that women using transdermal estrogen have a significantly lower risk of gallbladder issues, including cholecystectomy, than users of oral estrogen. The same is true of circulation issues, including venous thromboembolism (VTE), which are blood clots that form deep in the leg or groin. Blood clots have long been one of the key concerns during oral estrogen treatment, but research suggests that transdermal estrogen does not increase risk of blood clots/VTE either when used as a standalone therapy or in combination with a progestogen. As Dr. JoAnn V. Pinkerton, Executive Director of the North American Menopause Society, notes, “The lack of blood clots with transdermal estrogen […] is very reassuring for women who need to continue taking hormones as they age when risk of blood clots increases.”
Getting the Support You Need
We don’t control the natural production of our hormones. We don’t control the natural changes that happen to our body. But we can control how we react to them. We can control how we make ourselves feel. We can control the kind of hormones we take, how we take them, and at what doses.
If you are interested in making hormone replacement therapy part of your self-care strategy, it is important to reach out to a healthcare practitioner who specializes in hormone health. With their guidance, you can decide what kind of hormone treatment is right for you.
Regardless of the specific administration method you choose, the right practitioner will help you develop a holistic plan to not only relieve your symptoms, but enhance your overall sense of wellness and protect your long-term health. In doing so, you can take back control over your life and find yourself again.
Ready to start your journey toward wellness? BodyLogicMD can help. BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioners specialize in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and are among the top medical professionals in the country offering this unique and innovative treatment. If you want to take control of your health, the BodyLogicMD network of practitioners can help you set meaningful wellness goals and create a treatment plan customized to your individual needs. Contact a local practitioner in your area to take the next steps toward optimal health. Or take the Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how hormones are impacting your everyday life, and dive deeper into the benefits that BHRT has to offer.
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 to 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.