Hormones are chemical messengers that control most major bodily functions – from hunger and satiety, to mood and emotions, to blood sugar levels, metabolism and reproduction. Each hormone in the body is maintained in a delicate balance, and when this balance is altered, many different symptoms can result.
What is Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is the use of hormones, that are identical in structure to those produced by our own bodies, to restore balance to the body and manage symptoms of hormone imbalance.
These bio-identical hormones are synthesized from plants, most notably Mexican wild yam and soy.
They are very different from the synthetic hormones that previously were widely used to manage symptoms of hormone imbalance in menopausal women. Some of these hormones were natural (if you are a horse – most estrogens came from pregnant mare urine) and some were completely synthetic (progestins – a chemical version of progesterone).
Who Benefits from BHRT?
The most common reason to use bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is to treat the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. Symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, memory lapses, brain fog, vaginal dryness and more can all improve with hormone balance.
However, many different types of hormone imbalances can be corrected with appropriate use of bio-identical hormone replacement. These include:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Luteal phase defect
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Uterine fibroids
- Breast tenderness
- Low libido
- Irregular periods
- Hair loss
Is BHRT Safe?
“Synthetic hormones are not necessarily made, sold, and prescribed because they work better than natural hormones, but because natural hormones can’t be patented.”
~ Dr. John Lee & Virginia Hopkins
There is a general awareness in the medical community of the risks associated with synthetic hormone replacement therapies. The Women’s Health Initiative, a study undertaken by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, halted their investigation into the use of synthetic hormones for menopausal symptoms when it was found that estrogen with synthetic progesterone increased the risk for a number of different negative outcomes, including breast cancer, stroke, heart attacks and blood clots.
Most of the studies on bio-identical hormone treatment come from Europe. One notable study, known as the French Study, did not find an increase in the risk of breast cancer in women using a topical estrogen and bio-identical progesterone. Another study, the E3N study, found no increase in clotting or risk of stroke in women using natural progesterone.
BHRT is not for everyone. Your Naturopathic Doctor will discuss your personal and family history, your symptoms and suggest appropriate testing to determine if you are a candidate for bio-identical hormone therapy.
Preparing for a BHRT Appointment
The most important step in preparing for your bio-identical hormone replacement therapy appointment is to select a practitioner who is experienced in hormone testing, balancing and prescribing. If you are unsure if your practitioner is experienced, book a 15 minute consultation to ask your questions before proceeding.
At your initial consultation your Naturopathic Doctor will complete a detailed intake, discussing your current symptoms, health concerns and overall lifestyle. A personal and family history will also be discussed to determine whether hormone therapy is an appropriate possible treatment for you. A symptom questionnaire may be used to further assess symptoms and get a baseline of symptoms for future comparison.
Your Naturopath will then discuss appropriate testing for overall health and hormone balance. The type of testing necessary, the cost, the appropriate timing and sample type will be discussed. You can learn more on hormone testing at this link: Understanding Hormone Testing. If you have any recent laboratory testing (in the past 12 months), it may be helpful to bring that with you to your first visit.
A follow up will occur once your Naturopathic Doctor receives the necessary testing. Future follow ups and testing will be determined on an individual basis between you and your ND.