Bioidentical Hormones: What Are They and Are They Right for You?
As we age, our hormone production declines in predictable fashion; and it begins earlier than you might think. By the time we are in our thirties and forties our production of sex hormones may be low enough to cause serious symptoms. Although both genders produce all of the sex hormones, men produce predominantly testosterone and women produce predominantly estrogens and progesterone. The sex hormones are familiar to most people as the hormones that determine our gender, our secondary sexual characteristics as we mature and many aspects of our fertility.
But did you know that virtually all of our organs and tissues have receptors for the sex hormones, which means that these tissues respond to the sex hormones. Testosterone, estrogen and progesterone have profound effects on the health of the muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, brain, eyes and other endocrine systems, to name a few. So, not only do we have unpleasant symptoms with hormonal decline, but also it is detrimental to our health.
Until 2002 women were usually prescribed synthetic hormones; and usually, this prescription was issued long after menopausal symptoms had been evident without any lab testing of the patient. Often, the same dose was prescribed for every woman.
In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a study led by the National Institutes of Health looking at the effects of Prempro (synthetic hormones) on cardiovascular health, osteoporosis and cancer, was abruptly terminated just 8 years into the study. The study already showed an increase in the risk of heart attacks and stroke and breast cancer. These study results were widely publicized in the popular press with the result that millions of women suddenly stopped taking their hormone replacement either by their own decision or on the advice of their doctors. Hormone replacement has come to be viewed with fear.
Bioidentical hormones, i.e. hormones that are identical to those produced in our own bodies, offer a much safer alternative. They are usually prescribed on an individual basis, with lab testing to determine the level of need and the response to therapy. There are numerous studies showing that bioidentical hormones are protective for the cardiovascular system in several different ways (increased coronary artery blood flow, decreased arterial plaque, decreased arterial spasm, and a favorable influence on lipids), thereby decreasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. The natural estrogen, estriol, has been shown both experimentally and clinically to be associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer, and bioidentical progesterone has an anti-proliferative effect on breast tissue, meaning it has an anti breast cancer effect, which is opposite to the effect of the synthetics. It also seems intuitively obvious that our bodies know how to metabolize our own hormones (that is, the enzymes exist to both create and destroy them) but do not have the ability to break down the synthetic versions of hormones. Women feel better on hormone replacement, but bioidentical hormone replacement also contributes to preservation of muscle and bone health, prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, prevention of eye disease, preservation of urinary tract health, and preservation of libido and zest for life!
As for men, symptoms of andropause (hormonal decline) are often not discussed, not addressed and are largely ignored. Men might be given a prescription for erectile dysfunction, but this does not preserve energy and mood, or muscle, bone, heart and endocrine health the way testosterone does.