The hormones that your body produces will maintain and control most of your bodily functions. The hormones essentially communicate with the cells throughout your body in order to tell them what to do. This can be everything from your appetite to your mood, immune function, and libido. This means that whenever your hormones are off-balance, your entire body and mind can be thrown off-balance as well.
Hormone fluctuations are normal occurrences that people will encounter; your hormones are never going to stay in a perfect balance. However, whenever the body’s hormones fluctuate enough that they drop dramatically or they become unbalanced, many people will turn to hormone replacement therapy options in order to get their hormones back in balance. One of these therapies, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) has been getting increased attention recently by promising a “natural” solution to hormone issues. But what is BHRT really, and how is it different from other hormone replacement therapy options?
What is Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy?
BHRT is a treatment that can be used to treat women or men whenever their hormone levels are unbalanced or drop. Though the treatment is not only used for women, it is most often used in cases of menopause or perimenopause. BHRT can also be used to treat:
- insulin resistance
- adrenal disorders
- thyroid disorders
- cancer symptoms
Bioidentical hormones are lab-made hormones that are derived from plant estrogens that have an identical chemical make-up to those produced by the human body. The treatment is used to replace the hormones that the body has lost. Once they have been replaced, hormone levels will increase and become more balanced and symptoms will begin to clear up. The treatment using bioidentical hormone replacement can take place in various forms, including:
How common is Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy?
The use of BHRT is common among U.S. women who are experiencing menopause. Once they begin experiencing symptoms of low estrogen, many women will consult with their doctor about how to decrease the symptoms. Most of the time, if they have low estrogen levels, their doctor will get them started on bioidentical hormone therapy in order to level out their estrogen levels.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reported that around 1.4 million women are using this treatment in order to treat low estrogen levels. NAMS noted that this number is around 40% of all of the people who use hormone therapy in order to treat hormone levels. The number of men that use hormone therapy was not noted in the report.
Benefits of Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
BHRT is often used as people begin to age and their hormone levels drop. The treatment is typically sought out by those who are experiencing recurring symptoms that they are unable to move past. These symptoms can include:
- loss of energy
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- decreased libido
- pain during sex
- problems sleeping
- foggy thinking
- mood swings and changes
- memory loss
- weight gain
As well as helping with symptoms like this, hormone replacement therapy can also reduce the risk for diseases and ailments. This includes diabetes, tooth loss, and cataracts. There is also some evidence that BHRT can improve the thickness, hydration, and elasticity of skin and even reduce wrinkles.
For those who have breast cancer, or another type of cancer, BHRT has been effective in improving their general quality of life in relation to their cancer. In a study by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, people with cancer who underwent BHRT were able to find relief from symptoms related to their treatment, such as migraines, incontinence, low libido, and insomnia. The study also shows that the recurrence rate of breast cancer was not higher than average.
Side Effects and Risks of Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
While some preparations of bioidentical estradiol and progesterone has been FDA approved, there are not any compounded bioidentical hormones that are FDA approved. There are those who have claimed that bioidentical hormones are safer and more effective than traditional HRT due to the fact that they are identical to the hormones that are produced by the body. However, these claims have not been confirmed by large, reputable studies and the FDA urges that caution be practiced when using compounded products.
Research has found that HRT in general can increase the risk of those that receive it for some conditions and diseases. This includes:
- blood clots
- heart disease
- breast cancer
There can also be side effects that patients experience following bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, especially as the body begins to adjust to the flow of new bioidentical hormones. These can include:
- weight gain
- mood swings
- increase facial hair
Many people are unable to take bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or any other form of hormone replacement due to preexisting conditions or in order to prevent conditions, such as if they have an increased risk of breast cancer. The potential risks and side effects vary among people, depending on their medical history. If you are considering seeking out BHRT, consult with your doctor prior to beginning the treatment.