Nearly every woman will go through menopause. Except for women who have had their ovaries removed before puberty, it is an experience as universal to womanhood as anything. But just as each woman’s personality and experiences are unique, everyone’s journey with menopause is profoundly personal.
The deeply individual nature of the menopausal transition means there is no single way to address the symptoms of menopause and the challenges they bring. There are many different treatments, remedies, and positive actions to take, but you ultimately have to find what is right for you. While this plethora of choices means that you are likely to find a strategy that works for you, it can also be overwhelming to consider your options and decide what is best for your individual situation.
For many women, one of the most difficult decisions is whether or not to use menopause hormone therapy, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). To help you make your decision, it’s important to thoughtfully explore the pros and cons of menopause hormone therapy and consider them in light of your own symptoms, medical history, and personal preferences. It’s also critical to understand that not all hormone treatments are created equal, and choosing the right form of menopause hormone therapy may be essential to your success.
The Pros of Menopause Hormone Therapy
Menopause hormone therapy replenishes your hormone levels to compensate for the loss of estrogen and progesterone that triggers menopause. This strategy brings a wide range of benefits, which is why it has become increasingly popular among women over the past several decades.
Menopause is associated with a host of physical and emotional symptoms, the severity and duration of which may vary from person to person. There is no minimum threshold needed to start treatment; if you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you may benefit from menopause hormone therapy:
- Hot flashes
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Diminished sex drive
- Urinary Incontinence
The goal of any menopause-related treatment is relieving the specific symptoms brought on by diminishing hormone levels. However, only menopause hormone therapy can remove the source of hormone-related symptoms by addressing their root cause; by elevating your supply of critical sex hormones, your symptoms may be minimized or even eliminated. As such, hormone therapy is widely considered to be the best treatment available for the uncomfortable effects of menopause.
Long-Term Health Benefits
Estrogen and progesterone are best known for regulating the menstrual cycle and supporting reproduction. However, they also play a significant role in many other physiological processes, and the loss of these hormones can increase your risk of certain health conditions, including osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, psychiatric disorders, and neurological diseases such as dementia. Women who experience menopause before the age of 45 are particularly vulnerable.
Replenishing estrogen and progesterone levels via hormone replacement therapy has been shown to lower the risk of a number of menopause-related health conditions and improve overall quality of life. In fact, research suggests that in women with primary ovarian deficiency (when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning prior to the age of 40), “physiological replacement of estrogen (and progesterone) is essential for their health.” Studies have also found that menopause hormone therapy may help women with diabetes stabilized glucose levels and some data suggests that it could potentially delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
For the greatest benefits, starting hormone treatment within 10 years of menopause or prior to the age of 60 is best.
Improved Quality of Life
There’s no doubt that the symptoms of menopause can be distressing. Many women find that they don’t feel like themselves, and the effects of hormonal change can deeply affect your sense of self, your functionality, and your relationships. In other words, menopause can deeply affect your quality of life. Addressing the discomforts of menopause can help you maintain your overall wellbeing and enjoy this transformative stage of life.
Potential Cons of Menopause Hormone Therapy
While there are many benefits to menopause hormone therapy, there can be a few potential stumbling blocks and risks as well. Each woman must decide for herself whether hormone treatment is the best way to help her achieve her goals or if the cons outweigh the pros.
Not Universally Effective
As we said (and as you know), every woman is different. Not every body reacts to treatment in the same way. There will be some women who don’t respond well to menopause hormone therapy, whether it’s due to lack of efficacy or poor tolerability. However, your response to hormone therapy will largely be driven by the specific products you use and how you use them. That’s why it is vital to find a the best hormone replacement practitioner you can. These specialists will have the knowledge and tools needed to optimize your chances of success.
Menopause hormone therapy isn’t like taking a painkiller for a headache. It’s a vital treatment designed to restore physiological balance to address ongoing challenges and needs to be closely monitored in order to ensure efficacy and tolerability. Although some practitioners will simply give you a prescription and send you on your way, getting the most out of hormone replacement therapy means regular visits and hormone testing with a hormonal health specialist.
Potential Health Risks
Even if the benefits are appealing, some women are hesitant to use menopause hormone therapy due to concerns about risks. It is true that hormone replacement therapy, like many other medications, is associated with a number of health risks, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer, blood clots, and cardiovascular conditions. However, many of these risks have been found to only be associated with certain administration methods or medication strategies. For example, while venous thromboembolism (VTE) has been found to be a rare but serious risk of oral estrogen therapy, research suggests that they are not associated with other administration methods, such as transdermal estrogen. Endometrial cancer is associated with estrogen-only therapy, but not combined estrogen and progesterone therapy at proper doses. Meanwhile, there is no consensus on the impact of menopause hormone therapy on breast cancer, and some research suggests that risk is informed by a variety of factors, including body mass, breast tissue density, and race.
A hormone specialist can help you better understand the risks of menopause hormone therapy, explore your personal risk factors, and determine whether you are a good candidate for treatment.
Not All Menopause Hormone Therapy is Created Equal
Just as each woman’s experience of menopause is unique, so too is each type of hormone treatment. For many women, the pros of menopause hormone therapy may be accentuated and the cons minimized by choosing the best products and dosages for their individual situation. For a growing number of women, that means choosing bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT).
Bioidentical hormones are derived from plants and are chemically identical to those produced by your own body, potentially allowing for greater efficacy and tolerability. What’s more, bioidentical hormone therapy can be customized based on your hormone levels, symptoms, and preferences. This ability to create hormone therapies in precise dosages and in a variety of administration methods means that you can choose exactly what works best for you—even if that changes over time. For many women, this innovative option makes menopause hormone therapy more inviting than ever before.
However, your health and your experience with menopause are multidimensional, and there are many ways to support greater well-being, whether you choose to use hormonal treatments or not. A practitioner who specializes in hormone health should help you not only weigh the pros and cons of menopause hormone therapy, but create an integrative plan to support your well-being. This may include offering customized nutrition planning, health and fitness support, and thoughtful use of supplements that address your symptoms and enhance your overall quality of life.
As you begin your journey through menopause, the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself and connect with the right practitioner to help you discover what works best for you. You are at a new beginning and with the right support, you can take the first steps toward a more fulfilling, healthier future.
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.