By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Menopause Symptoms: Bioidentical vs. Synthetic Hormones
Q: Are bioidentical hormones better than synthetic hormones for treating menopause symptoms?
As a Nurse Practitioner specializing in bioidentical hormones, I often hear the same complaints from women over and over again.
Women are frustrated with the changes taking place in their bodies and their feelings of being out of control. Women in the premenopause years, 35 to 50, commonly suffer from such symptoms as acne, bloating, depression, exhaustion, insomnia, weight gain, joint pain, facial hair, food cravings, fuzzy thinking and loss of sex drive.
They are discouraged by their current providers telling them there is nothing wrong, that it’s “normal,” or “just learn to live with it.” More and more women are no longer willing to settle for feeling bad. They are discovering that symptom control and even symptom alleviation are within their grasp, without resorting to animal-based synthetic hormone treatments that have been shown to have potentially dangerous side effects or anti-depressants, sleeping pills, etc.
The great appeal of bioidentical hormones is that they are natural, and our bodies can metabolize them as it was designed to do, reducing side effects. Synthetic hormones are strong and often produce intolerable side effects. Moreover, the compounded bioidentical hormones can be matched individually to each woman’s needs. This is impossible with mass-produced products.
Replenishing hormones and creating balance in the midst of hormonal upheaval can transform a woman’s life.
Even if that sounds like an outrageous claim, it isn’t. Time and again I’ve seen women who have had highs and lows brought back into equilibrium by the careful use of natural hormones. Natural hormones are hormones in their purest form-bioidentical in molecular structure to those made by the human body. They are made from plant material (either wild yam or soy), have the same effect as the body’s own hormones, and do not interfere with the body’s own hormone production. Used with care, they can have an excellent effect and resolve most hormone-related symptoms.
We are hearing a great deal today about natural hormones, and women are interested about their choices. Unfortunately, many women are unable to tolerate or take synthetic hormones due to adverse effects or family history breast cancer or heart disease. Information disseminated by the drug sales force is obviously profit-driven, and articles about hormone replacement in the popular media often present conflicting information. When taken orally, synthetic estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer in some women.
A couple of myths have been established. The first is that if we don’t use synthetic hormones, we will grow old before our time; second, if we do use them, we will surely get breast cancer and/or heart disease. Both of these claims are obviously untrue. Exploring the Internet can also be overwhelming and confusing. News reports are ever changing and often conflicting, and an aura of fear, insecurity, and misinformation surrounds hormone use.
In my experience, women feel much better about their decision to use a hormone prescription after a thorough hormonal screening and evaluation has pinpointed their exact deficiency or excess-and when they understand what they are taking. Hormone testing makes treating a hormonal imbalance much more precise and reinforces the need for each woman to be treated as a unique being.
The hormones that most medical providers prescribe are synthetic products manufactured in a lab. These formulations are chemically based compounds that are not identical to that produced by the human body. Some have the opposite effect of our natural hormones. Today, we have an option. Natural hormones versus synthetics provide more-complete correction of symptoms with fewer side effects.
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