For decades, synthetic pharmaceuticals prescribed as “hormone replacement” have been among the most widely recommended medications in the United States. These synthetic hormones have commonly been ordered for menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, and have also been endorsed as a preventative measure for osteoporosis and other conditions.
There are numerous side effects and concerns regarding the long-term safety of these pharmaceutical hormone replacements. The possibility of breast cancer has caused many doctors to shy away from prescribing these treatments to their patients. Countless women fear the consequences of being treated with hormones and refuse treatment that might otherwise be beneficial. Along with the move away from these synthetic hormone treatments, the field of bioidentical hormone replacement has emerged.
Why Bioidentical Hormones?
The driving force behind the immense interest in bioidentical hormones is that people may receive the benefits of hormone replacement while mitigating the negative side effects. Hormone therapy is helpful for more than just menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. When hormonal imbalances occur, a multitude of symptoms may be experienced. These are important not only to women but also to men.
Consider the many symptoms that overlap for both sexes: low libido, depression, forgetfulness, sleep disturbances, aches and pains, weakness, fatigue, headaches, bone loss, heart palpitations, thyroid issues—the list goes on and on. Both women and men are affected by their hormones becoming imbalanced and/or deficient and both can be helped.
While almost everyone has heard of menopause, the term that refers to the male equivalent of menopause, andropause, is less widely known. Men’s hormones decline during their forties and fifties, affecting them negatively in a slower and more subtle way than how women are impacted. Women often experience the urgent and disturbing problems of hot flashes and night sweats and rush to their doctor’s offices for a solution. On the other hand, men’s symptoms commonly include a decreased libido and weakened sexual performance as well as general aches and pains. As these issues tend to be attributed to general aging, they have often been overlooked as an actual medical issue.
It is noteworthy that many frequently used medications for cholesterol or blood pressure may lead some to endure side effects that mimic and may worsen the same symptoms of hormone deficiencies. It is only recently that men have been acknowledged as benefitting from and needing hormonal therapy. Advertisements for “Low-T” (low testosterone
syndrome) are now commonplace.
So What Are Bioidentical Hormones, Exactly?
Bioidentical hormones are custom-compounded hormones made by a compounding pharmacy. It is the same hormonal substance that the body naturally produces; therefore, when a woman or man is prescribed this treatment, they are receiving a replacement of something that is naturally made in the body, which has become deficient, thus causing a variety of symptoms. Studies have found that there are numerous possible risks for those prescribed synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Synthetic hormones do not mimic the body’s natural hormones. They mainly turn off the symptoms of menopause rather than rebalancing hormone levels. Conversely, bioidentical hormones possess a chemical structure identical to the hormone in the human body. This means they incorporate into the body in a gentler and safer way than synthetic hormones. Areas in the body’s cells called receptors are the site where the bioidentical hormones attach to be introduced into the cell. These receptors do not allow synthetic pharmaceuticals such as Prempro or Provera to attach and enter the cell in the way nature intended.
A physician can tailor a prescription with the exact dose for the individual patient to a compounding pharmacy. This is in contrast to a pharmaceutical drug produced and shipped to all pharmacies with an average dose for everyone. Not only are bioidentical hormones prescribed individually, but it is the practice of these prescribing doctors to monitor the patient’s hormone levels and, when needed, adjust doses for maximum benefits.
Testing for and Treating Hormonal Imbalance
Saliva testing is used to check the bioactive levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol. This method is preferred over blood tests for a more accurate assessment, as the hormones detected via saliva are not bound by proteins. The balance between the different hormone levels is another important factor to be considered and addressed by the physician, especially that between estrogen and progesterone, so that one’s optimal well-being may be achieved.
When estrogen levels become relatively too high compared to progesterone levels, estrogen dominance can occur and may cause water retention, breast swelling, weight gain, fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids, and other harmful effects.
Testosterone for Men and Women
Many people identify testosterone as “the male hormone.” While men normally have higher testosterone levels than women, both sexes require testing, as relative deficiencies may occur for men and women.
Testosterone therapy improves symptoms such as weakness and fatigue and is thought to be protective against heart disease. Testosterone also plays a fundamental role in reverse cholesterol transport (RCT), key in removing excess cholesterol from the arterial wall and maintaining a healthier HDL, the good cholesterol.
The benefits of bioidentical hormones are well documented. Within days, women who suffer from hot flashes and night sweats will sleep better as their hormone levels are replenished and their symptoms lessen. Libido will begin to return and weight control will be noticeably affected over time. Follow-up by the physician can optimize and enhance the patient’s results.
It is crucial to recognize the importance of nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle changes in conjunction with making the decision to use bioidentical hormones. The utilization of natural supplements may also be advisable in the journey to improved health and the prevention of illness as one’s hormones return to more youthful levels. The best results for overall optimum health may then be achieved and can additionally provide the possibility for greater longevity.
Dr. Henry C. Sobo, MD, has a practice in Stamford, CT. He can be reached at 203.348.8805. More information is available at: www.drsobo.com.