Bioidentical hormones are hormones synthesized from chemical extracts of plants like soy and yams. They are identical in molecular structure to the hormones produced in the body and the body can’t tell the difference between bioidentical hormones and hormones produced naturally by the ovaries, testes or other organs. Most often, bioidentical hormones are forms of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA. Usually, these hormones are compounded by a pharmacy and are unique to each individual, depending on hormone levels tested by a physician via saliva, blood and other tests.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (Bhrt), also called “natural hormone therapy” because the hormones are not synthetic or made in a laboratory, describes hormone replacement therapy that uses hormones biologically identical to the hormones produced naturally in the body. These hormones are extracted and synthesized to be structurally identical to the hormones produced in the body. Bhrt usually pertains to the hormones estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA that are compounded or mixed together by a compounding pharmacy specifically for each individual. Bhrt is can be conducted orally, via injection, through a suppository, patches, and applied via creams and lotions. Bhrt is generally more cost effective than brand-name products used to treat symptoms of hormonal imbalance and other more serious illnesses.
Bioidentical hormones were first used to treat symptoms of menopause in the 1930’s by Canadian researcher John Collip. Collip found he could extract estrogen from the urine of pregnant women and began marketing the drug as Emmenin. But, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Jonathan Wright and John R. Lee became the pioneers of Bhrt. The term bioidentical hormone was coined by Wright to describe plant derived hormones and their similarity to human hormones. Lee wrote many popular books on Bhrt and helped promote compounded hormones to the masses. A book by Suzanne Somers in 2006 also helped propel Bhrt into the spotlight and receive mainstream attention.
Some bioidentical hormones like progesterone and estradiol (i.e., an estrogen) are approved by the FDA for commercial use in many well-known products available in Canada and the United States. But, this does not include the products compounded by a pharmacy. These hormones are chemically synthesized from natural plants of which the molecular structure hasn’t been altered and, therefore, can’t be patented by the pharmaceutical companies. There is no testing of these products because they are made specifically for individuals and each prescription is customized for a particular person. It’s important to note that some hormones are FDA approved before being compounded.
A compounding pharmacy is one where they mix the ingredients for medication right there in the pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies make specific doses and mixtures of ingredients specifically balanced based on the needs of a particular patient. Before the 1950’s, most pharmacies were compounding pharmacies, but when big pharmaceutical companies began producing mass amounts of medication, this relegated most pharmacists to dispensers of pre-maid products. Recently, there has been a resurgence of compounding pharmacies due to shortages of popular medications and an increased need and desire for individualized medication regiments.
Generally, any physician that prescribes medication can prescribe hormone replacement. The list of those who can prescribe Bhrt include, but is not limited to: endocrinologists (i.e., doctors specializing in the endocrine system and its hormones), urologists (i.e., doctors that specialize in the urinary tract), andrologists (i.e., doctors that specialize in male sex hormones), licensed medical doctors or primary care physicians. Many physicians are apprehensive to prescribe Bhrt due to the limited amount of research on the long-term effects. Due to the limited knowledge of hormone replacement by most medical practitioners, it’s highly recommended that you see a physician specializing in Bhrt to get the most up-to-date information and treatment options available.
Perimenopause– perimenopause means “around menopause” and is females’ natural transition from fertility to infertility. Perimenopause can last for many years (average length is 4 years) before women achieve menopause (i.e., the cessation of menstruating for an entire year). Bhrt can alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause and make the transition from fertility to infertility less severe by balancing hormone levels.
Menopause– menopause is the time in a women’s life when she stops menstruating and can no longer become pregnant. This change is brought on by a decrease in production of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone by the uterus. Bhrt can alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause and make the transition from fertility to infertility less severe.
Andropause– Andropause is the name given to lowered androgen levels (e.g., testosterone, estrogen, DHEA) or decreased androgen production in aging men. Androgens are hormones produced by the gonads (i.e., testes and ovaries). The most known androgen is testosterone and many people use the terms androgen and testosterone interchangeably. Low levels of testosterone in both aging men and women is well documented. Balancing levels of hormones can be the key to healthy functioning in advanced stages of life.
Adrenal Fatigue– adrenal fatigue is the name given to the disorder of fatigued or over-worked adrenal glands. When under stress, the adrenal glands emit hormones to combat the hormones released from stress. When the adrenal glands can’t produce enough hormones (i.e., adrenaline, cortisol and some androgens) to deal with the stress, they become fatigued and malfunction. This leads to a decrease in energy and fatigue. Replacing hormones can help offset the decrease in production by the adrenals and alleviate the feelings of tiredness and lack of motivation associated with adrenal fatigue.
Thyroid Problems– the thyroid is a gland located below the Adam’s apple and above the neck. The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which releases hormones responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism including, heart rate and how fast the body burns calories. Thyroid problems can lead to many serious illnesses, like thyroid cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Bioidentical thyroid can reduce the risks of these conditions and reduce symptomology.
Fibromyalgia– fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness and abdominal pain, sleep disturbance, psychological distress and poor information processing and cognitive functioning. Symptoms have been known to begin after a physically traumatic event, surgery, severe distress or a serious infection, but can also accumulate gradually over time. Hormone replacement can reduce symptoms and the “flare ups” associated with fibromyalgia.
What are the benefits of Bhrt? Please do a bulleted list and a version with each benefit described.
Increased Libido– when levels of androgens are low, one of the first symptoms noticed and reported by women is decreased libido or sex drive. Bhrt can replenish testosterone levels, thereby, increasing sex drive through the utilization of this most prized sex hormone.
Increased Sense of Positive Well-Being– one benefit of Bhrt often overlooked is an increase in the sense of positive well-being. When testosterone and other hormone levels drop, this can sometimes produce anxiety and depression in men and women. Androgen levels have been shown to affect how individuals feel about themselves, especially testosterone and cortisol levels. Experiencing symptoms like decreased libido, and low energy levels can lead to diminished feelings of positive well-being. Bhrt can combat these symptoms and improve how people feel about themselves in the process.
Decreased Fatigue– low levels of energy are a common among women with low testosterone levels. Testosterone is thought to give people their “edge” or the drive and determination needed to be productive on a daily basis. Numerous studies have reported that restoring levels of testosterone increases viability.
Improved Osteoporosis and Muscle Loss– are commonly associated with hormonal imbalance, mainly high cortisol and estrogen levels in combination with low testosterone. Balancing these hormones has been known to increase muscle mass and lead to stronger bones.
Improved Sleep Patterns– a decrease in hormone levels can also increase problems associated with sleep, like sleep apnea, a condition where sleep is constantly interrupted due to starting and stopping of breathing, which leads to a decrease in REM during sleep. Originally thought to be a product of being overweight, a recent study found that sex hormone replacement reduced the severity of sleep apnea syndrome by 75% as measured by the sleep apnea index.
Reduction in Metabolic Syndrome (i.e., abnormal cholesterol and high blood pressure)– low levels of testosterone are associated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors such as abnormal cholesterol and high blood pressure that increase risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes as well as other serious risks to health. In a recent study, those treated with testosterone saw a dramatic decrease of the indicators associated with metabolic syndrome. The results showed an overall decrease in bad cholesterol and triglycerides, but also an increase in good cholesterol. This resulted in a decrease of two to three pants sizes, as well as, a decrease in waist size of three to four inches, without the aid of diet or exercise plan.
Decreased Vaginal Dryness– vaginal dryness is caused by the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to low estrogen levels. It’s common for women during perimenopause and menopause and can lead to decreases in libido and decreased sexual sensitivity. Increased estrogen levels can replenish the moist lining of the vagina walls leading to less irritation and discomfort during intercourse and increased libido.
Decrease in Mood Swings- unprovoked, sudden changes in mood or inappropriate responses to an occurrence or event. Estrogen helps regulate serotonin (e.g., a mood hormone) and when estrogen levels fluctuate during menopause, serotonin levels and mood fluctuate accordingly. Balancing estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels significantly improves and stabilizes mood.
Improved Memory– estrogen helps regulate the production of cortisol or the stress hormone. When estrogen levels decrease during perimenopause and menopause, neurotransmitters in the brain can malfunction and cortisol production is not regulated properly, leading to memory lapses. Increasing levels of estrogen eliminates symptoms and restores cognitive functioning.
Decreased Irritability and Anxiety– irritability and anxiety are generally thought to be the result of high cortisol levels and low levels of testosterone, though high estrogen levels can also be the cause. High cortisol levels diminish the amount of free testosterone in the blood stream, leading to increased estrogen levels and irritability. Women who are irritable or anxious may appear angry, tense, frustrated, sad, demanding, hostile, impatient, defensive and antagonizing. Balancing the levels of hormones like testosterone and estrogen alleviates irritability and helps women focus on daily tasks, rather than the problems associated with the changes occurring in their bodies.
Eliminates Hot Flashes– hot flashes are sudden and intense feelings of warmth over the face, neck and chest. Replacing hormones that regulate metabolism (e.g., testosterone) decreases the occurrence and severity of hot flashes and improves the quality of life for women experiencing perimenopause and menopause.
Eliminates Night Sweats– night sweats in women can be a signal of hormonal imbalance and perimenopause. It’s generally believed that the hypothalamus receives false signals that the body is overheating and begins to release the excess heat. Since the body is not overheating, night sweats or hot flashes can occur. This is brought on by an imbalance of testosterone levels and cortisol levels. Bhrt can restore testosterone levels which helps regulate cortisol production and eliminate night sweats and the sleep problems associated with them.