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If you’re a woman nearing menopause, you might wonder if bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can ease your symptoms. Dealing with hot flashes and mood disruption isn’t anyone’s idea of fun.
Proponents of this technique claim that it is more natural and effective. It also offers an alternative for women who lack access to regular health care services. However, is it safe? Here’s what you need to know about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy refers to the use of compounds that are chemically identical to the hormones your body produces. They might come from animal or plant sources. Doctors synthesize others in the laboratory.
These substances treat conditions associated with menopause, such as vaginal dryness, muscle atrophy and fatigue. Some people experiment with hormone replacement as an anti-aging measure to prevent sagging skin and ward off age-related conditions.
You don’t need to take bioidentical hormones internally. You can find bioidentical hormone replacement therapy in pills, patches, implanted pellets, gels and shots. Some people believe transdermal patches and gels work better than taking supplements internally because much of the hormone otherwise gets lost during digestion.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is available via prescription. While you can find tons of similar products over the counter, the FDA does not have the authority to review such items, which means you might not know precisely what you are taking.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy offers several advantages. Studies show that some forms of this treatment modality decrease vaginal atrophy and dryness, while anecdotal reports support an ameliorative effect on other symptoms.
One advantage of current bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is that you can customize it to suit your symptoms. There are multiple versions of estrogen available, for instance. You might find that replacing hormones such as DHEA and progesterone also helps ease what ails you.
Please understand — the word “bioidentical” is not synonymous with “natural.” If you undergo prescription hormone replacement therapy, scientists formulated your medication in a laboratory.
However, some forms of bioidentical replacement therapy do stem from natural substances. For example, many OTC manufacturers use soy to produce estrogen patches and yams for progesterone. Some brands use pregnant mare’s urine, a practice that draws the ire of animal rights activists.
Also, keep in mind that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Water hemlock is as natural as you can get, and that stuff killed Socrates.
Suppose you are one of the millions of Americans who lack access to health care providers due to insufficient funds or coverage. In that case, you can find bioidentical hormone replacement therapy available over the counter. However, bear in mind that there’s no guarantee these products will work, and you could face considerable health risks from medically unsupervised experimentation.
Many Americans place considerable trust in the free market. If you believe products wouldn’t last long on store shelves if they didn’t work, skipping the medical middle man might appeal to you.
Even when doctors prescribe bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and supervise your treatment, risks remain. Perhaps the most substantial one lies in standardization.
Because compounding pharmacies that manufacture non-FDA-approved products receive minimal, if any oversight, consumers can’t know the conditions under which the manufacturer produced their pills or patches. As recently as 2012, 60 people died from fungal meningitis after receiving tainted steroids.
Therefore, you must exercise due diligence as a consumer, especially if you shop for OTC products. If at all possible, please try to use FDA-approved bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. If you don’t have the means to obtain a prescription, educate yourself on the potential hazards before slapping on that patch.
Your risk of breast cancer may increase with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Women who use estrogen and progesterone replacement therapy for five years increase their risk of this disease. Estrogen alone did not have a similar effect.
Finally, your risk of blood clots in your legs increases, along with your stroke risk. Though it’s still rare among women aged 50 to 59, it does up your chances approximately as much as using hormonal birth control.
Ultimately, the decision to use bioidentical hormone replacement therapy comes down to you and your doctor. If you feel that easing your symptoms outweighs the risks, this treatment modality could offer substantial relief.