It would be hard not to be confused about bioidentical hormone therapy. From celebrity claims about a Fountain of Youth to “science” blogs about “facts” that are amazingly ignorant, the debate over bioidentical hormone therapy grows along with the market for them.
Let's see if we can sort this out a bit. First of all, I am not a scientist or a medical professional, so I will steer clear of the scientific parts of the debate. As you will see, I can still provide some clarity, due to my personal experience and my herbal medicine training.
Bioidentical means it has the same molecular structure as your body's hormones.
Cosmetic anti-aging creams containing wild yam are just that – cosmetic creams containing a plant extract. These creams have absolutely nothing to do with progesterone, or bioidentical anything. They do not contain hormones. The confusion is caused because a) the wild yam plant is useful on it's own as a menopausal remedy and b) the wild yam plant is used in labs to make hormones.
All hormones are made in a lab. “Natural” progesterone is made in a lab. Bioidentical progesterone is made in a lab. Synthetic progesterone is made in a lab. Plants do contain hormones, but they are not human hormones and will not give you the same effects as human hormones.
And if that's not confusing enough, you can buy bioidentical progesterone over the counter, or through a doctor's prescription. You also buy conjugated estrogens (non-bioidentical) through a doctor's prescription.
Your body produces a group of estrogens. The main ones are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is available through prescription and it is bioidentical. Estriol is available over the counter in a cream and it is also bioidentical, but it is a different type of estrogen.
Two estrogens, both bioidentical, one by prescription, one over the counter, but they have different qualities. Then there are the conjugated estrogens. These are the estrogens that are used in traditional Hormone Replacement Therapy. These are estrogens we think of when we think of increased health risks and side effects. These are the estrogens your mother took if she was on HRT.
To be honest, I don't know what the risks of bioidentical hormone replacement are. We know much more about the risks of synthetic (non-bioidentical) hormones. There haven't been many studies done on bioidentical hormone therapy. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from doctors whose patients have used bioidenticals over the years. Most of this evidence is positive, and does not appear to be high risk. But until we have more information, we really can't say for sure.
It's a choice every woman will have to make for herself. If your quality of life is seriously reduced due to menopausal issues, then BHRT may be for you. I started out using nothing when my first symptoms hit. First of all, let me say that I had, and continue to have, a very difficult time with menopause and now post-menopause.
Before menopause, I wouldn't take an aspirin for a headache or a cold medicine when I was sick. I just took care of myself with diet and herbs. But I was unable to continue in that way after I hit menopause. I just had too many symptoms that rendered me almost nonfunctional. Since I still have a child at home, and am divorced, I can't just quit work and lay around the house recovering my health.
Yes, I would rather not take hormones of any kind. But then, I'd also rather not have debilitating brain fog and fatigue, along with joint pain and stiffness that reduces my ability to function normally.
I used herbs, diet and nutritional supplementation for the years prior to and just after menopause. I used over the counter bioidentical progesterone cream before menopause for a couple of years. Then I stopped for about five years.
Now I am taking bioidentical progesterone, estradiol and testosterone (by prescription). My hot flashes are completely gone, but much more importantly, my fatigue is gone and I can actually think again. I have been taking these hormones for about nine months. I hope to ease off of them sometime within the next year or so.
If you are going to take any kind of estrogen, it is thought to be safer to add progesterone than just to take estrogen alone.
If you are thinking about bioidentical hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, I encourage you to find a doctor that prescibes them. You can get progesterone over the counter ( or here) , but the form of estrogen, estriol, is not the same as the prescription estradiol, and it may not do much for you. Bioidentical testosterone is not available over the counter in the U.S.
I hope I have cleared up at least some of the confusion.
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