Dr. Allmen talks about women’s health and can help provide answers to many of your questions on her website drallmen.com.
Bioidentical hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) are often called “natural” hormones, because they are chemically identical to the hormones that women make primarily in their ovaries. They are definitely not “natural”, however. Instead, like all hormone therapy, they are synthesized in a laboratory.
How does hormone therapy work?
Conventional hormone therapy uses estrogens, progestins and testosterone that differ slightly from the hormones women make in their ovaries. There are also hormones that are purified from natural sources that are not bioidentical.
Now here comes a very important point. There are two types of bioidentical hormone products. The first kind has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What that means is that the quality and safety of these products is regulated so that you get the same product every time. In the case of estrogen, the bioidentical name is estradiol. It is available as a pill, patch, gel and vaginal insert.
The second kind of bioidentical hormone is the one that gets a lot of attention on television. It is made in a compounding pharmacy that mixes medications according to a doctor’s prescription. These products often contain varying amounts of two or three types of estrogen. These compounded hormones are not regulated by the FDA, and therefore their quality and safety are completely unknown. Furthermore, since an individual pharmacist is mixing the compounds, each batch is likely to vary. You simply cannot know exactly what you are getting.
Using hormones safely
So let’s talk about safety. There seems to be a bias toward using so-called natural hormones, because they are thought somehow to be safer than synthesized hormones. Since you now know that all hormones are synthesized, you will no longer be fooled by advertising and marketing strategies trying to lull you into a false sense of security. The bottom line is that all hormone therapy has potential risks.
Therefore, taking FDA-approved bioidentical hormones is the better choice for most women considering hormone therapy for the treatment of menopausal symptoms.
How will you know what hormone therapy is best for you?
You should have clear goals for what you want to achieve from hormone therapy. You may want to use it for treatment of hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, to name a few. It is preferable to find a healthcare professional who specializes in menopausal medicine and hormone therapy. Together, you will be able to determine the best treatment option. This will be based on your age, medical history, family history and risk for certain conditions such as breast cancer, stroke, heart disease and blood clots.
Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life. Today there is a wide range of both non-hormonal and hormonal options to choose from. It may take time to find the right treatment and the right dosage for you. Don’t give up!