As bioidentical hormone replacement therapy has become more popular over the past two decades, plenty of assumptions have been made about this treatment option. One of those assumptions is that “bioidentical” means “natural,” while “synthetic” means “made in a lab”.
But when discussing bioidentical testosterone vs. synthetic, it’s important to remember the truth: that both forms of testosterone are processed in medical labs. Both would technically qualify for the term “synthetic”—a word that describes substances produced through chemical synthesis. What makes bioidentical testosterone different from traditional hormone medications is its chemical makeup. What’s more, the scientific difference between two testosterone molecules may not make much of a difference to consumers.
However, there is often a significant distinction between the treatment experience you receive with bioidentical hormone practitioners vs. general physicians who work with conventional medications. That’s the difference that really matters to men who struggle with symptoms of low testosterone and could ultimately determine the success of treatment.
The Scientific Difference Between Bioidentical Testosterone vs. Synthetic
For those who are curious about the true scientific difference between bioidentical testosterone and so-called “synthetic” alternatives, here are the molecular details:
The testosterone molecule naturally produced by the human body is represented by the chemical formula C19H28O2. When bioidentical testosterone is synthesized in a medical laboratory from plant sources (like soy or yams), it is chemically engineered to have this exact formula, as bioidentical hormones are designed to perfectly mimic the body’s natural compounds. This is critical because any slight deviation from the original testosterone molecule has the potential to change its functionality in the human body.
Other testosterone medications, however, may rely on modified testosterone. These drugs are usually created by adding a certain element to the base testosterone molecule, changing the formula and making slight alterations to the molecule’s function. For example, medications like Metandren are made from methyltestosterone, a derivative of testosterone which is represented by the chemical formula C20H30O2.
So, if we have the ability to create testosterone that is identical to the natural source, why would we alter molecules at all? Pharmaceutical companies alter testosterone molecules to help make them more bioavailable in various preparations, as in the case of methyltestosterone—which was one of the first testosterone medications developed to be taken orally. Companies may also alter molecules in order to patent their newly-created product and shield themselves from competition.
Understanding How Testosterone Medications Work
Ultimately, both synthetic and bioidentical forms of testosterone tend to impact the body in largely the same way, with some differences depending on the specific synthetic form used. Modified testosterone molecules undergo an enzymatic process upon entering the body that removes their additional parts and makes them fully bioavailable for use in the body’s many systems. Bioidentical testosterone enters the body already bioavailable, which is why some believe bioidentical medications may be more effective and well-tolerated. However, there is currently no definitive research regarding the efficacy or tolerability of bioidenticals vs. conventional testosterone treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with low testosterone, you’ll probably experience similar effects regardless of which testosterone medication you take. Depending on which symptoms you experience, you could notice the following changes when taking testosterone replacement therapy:
- Improved energy levels
- Lower anxiety and improved mood
- Reduced body fat
- Increased lean muscle strength
- Improved sex drive and performance
With these benefits, it’s no wonder a growing number of men are seeking TRT.
It’s important to note that neither of the terms “bioidentical testosterone” nor “synthetic testosterone” refer to the abuse of these medications, which is commonly known as illegal anabolic steroid use. Both treatment options discussed here are used within a purely therapeutic context for the medically supervised treatment of low testosterone.
Identifying the Best Testosterone Replacement Therapy for You
If both bioidentical and traditional testosterone medications have roughly the same effect on the body, why is there so much conversation surrounding bioidentical testosterone vs. synthetic?After all, both options come with the same variety of preparations (gels, creams, injections, pellets) and may come with comparable costs. The real difference lies in the treatment experience.
When symptoms of low testosterone or andropause begin to emerge, many men seek TRT from their primary physicians. Often, they receive a standard dose of a commonly-prescribed medication and report back regularly to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make adjustments as necessary. Only when symptoms don’t improve or medication side effects emerge would a man be referred to a specialist for further guidance.
In contrast, the experience with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is far more individualized. Practitioners who offer this specialized therapy are often experts in hormone imbalances, symptoms, and treatments. The best hormone health practitioners typically spend more one-on-one time with each patient to fully understand their symptoms on an ongoing basis. They may request more extensive lab work for comprehensive blood, saliva, or urine samples to make the most accurate diagnosis. And they’re better equipped to adjust doses or change medications whenever necessary in order to minimize side effects and produce better results.
Significantly, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is customized for each patient; rather than being limited to standardized doses, your treatment can be tailored to your specific needs based on your individual hormone levels and symptoms. This could mean that you may achieve better symptom relief and experience fewer side-effects, giving you the best possible treatment outcome.
Seeking TRT From an Expert in Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
If bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) seems right for you, we recommend seeking treatment from the most highly-trained practitioners in your area. Not every medical professional has been trained specifically in BHRT, and few have the necessary qualifications to be considered specialists in the field. You can trust practitioners like those in the BodyLogicMD network, who have completed specialized training in hormonal health. This optional but meaningful credential can help you determine which practitioners really are the best of the best, so you can find relief from your low-T symptoms and reach your optimal level of health.
BodyLogicMD is a renowned network of specialists in the field of hormone health. BodyLogicMD practitioners are certified experts in treating hormone imbalances with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and dedicated to providing the highest standard of care for each patient. If you’ve struggled with symptoms of low testosterone and are ready to take back your health, contact a local practitioner to schedule your first appointment. We also recommend taking the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how testosterone impacts your overall wellness.
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.