Bioidentical Hormones: Definition, Benefits and Side Effects

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Bioidentical hormones are hormones that are structurally identical to the hormones in the human body, as opposed to synthetic sources that can cause major side effects. These hormones are available in pills, creams, gels, sprays, and vaginal inserts.

Most of the time, bioidentical hormones are used in place of traditional HRT for women during premenopause and menopause.

This therapy isn’t without controversy, though:

  • According to proponents, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (bHRT) limits adverse effects from conventional synthetic hormones because bioidentical hormones naturally work with your endocrine system. Doctors can also compound a custom build of hormones to suit your unique situation and treat your hormone conditions.
  • According to detractors, bioidentical hormones are not safer or more effective than FDA-approved hormone drugs — they are simply more expensive.

Doctors like myself who prefer bioidentical hormones often recommend bioidentical hormones during menopause and perimenopause. In my experience, bHRT can decrease menopause symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, insomnia etc.) and increase your quality of life, all while reducing the chance of undesirable hormone therapy side effects.

PrimeHealth doctors have extensive experience with the success of bioidentical hormones. Come to our clinic in Denver, CO, to learn more about how bioidentical hormones can change your life.

Bioidentical vs. Synthetic Hormone Therapy

Synthetic hormone therapy typically includes progestins (artificial forms of progesterone) or premarin (estrogen derived from the urine of pregnant horses). Synthetic hormones can lead to major side effects, including coronary heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and pulmonary emboli.

Bioidentical hormones help patients avoid the unwanted side effects of conventional hormones because they are specially chosen to best match your endogenous (natural) hormones’ chemical makeup.

For instance, there are different forms of estrogen. Some are synthetic while others are from animal sources that don’t match human estrogen’s chemical makeup. Only certain forms are “bioidentical” to human anatomy, increasing efficacy and safety.

Below are more differences between bHRT vs. synthetic HRT:

  • Many endocrinologists utilize conventional hormone therapy, but only certain doctors (such as integrative doctors) use bioidentical hormones.
  • Integrative doctors can formulate custom compounded hormones to fit your unique situation. Custom compounded hormones can be adjusted to your specific set of health conditions, the severity of your conditions, and your sensitivity to certain hormones.
  • Conventional therapy is more often covered by insurance, whereas insurance companies often refuse to cover bioidentical hormones, which may cost more.
  • Conventional hormones abnormally stimulate your hormone receptors compared to bioidentical hormones, likely leading to negative side effects.
  • There are more mainstream studies researching conventional hormones than bHRT. Unfortunately, many hormone studies are about synthetic hormones. More unfortunately, most of these studies refer to these synthetic hormones simply as “estrogen” or “progesterone” instead of the specific synthetic form of that hormone. Because bHRT are the exact chemical structure as what is made in your body, there’s no way to get a patent on it. Therefore, studying bHRT leads to no financial gains. This is a major reason why bHRT studies are scant.

Decades of vague, presumptuous hormone research have led healthcare providers down a destructive path when bioidentical hormones could have saved them time and even saved lives. This confusion has contributed to poor public opinion concerning hormone replacement therapy.

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Which Is Better, HRT or bHRT?

bHRT is better than conventional HRT because it uses bioidentical hormones that match the structure of your natural hormones. bHRT may reduce your risk of adverse effects seen in countless studies concerning synthetic FDA-approved products.

Read more: How To Balance Hormones

Benefits of bHRT

There are several benefits of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (bHRT):

  • Safety profileBioidentical hormones are typically safer for you because they match your natural hormones’ chemical structure. Conventional hormones often come from synthetic sources or animal sources that do not match human hormones, leading to unpredictable side effects like weaker bones and muscles or heart disease.
  • Custom compounding — One size does not fit all. Integrative doctors can customize the dosage of bioidentical hormones to suit your unique situation. Amounts of certain hormones can be increased or decreased to accommodate your health conditions, the severity of those conditions, any sensitivities, etc. Compounding pharmacies can also adjust the custom-made compounded products when needed. 
  • Fewer menopause symptoms — Bioidentical hormones seem to be better at reducing menopause symptoms than conventional synthetic hormones. Vaginal atrophy is when the vagina gets dryer, thinner, and inflamed after estrogen hormone levels decrease. Multiple studies have shown how bHRT reduces vaginal atrophy in menopausal patients.
  • Reduced risk of cancer — Studies have shown that bioidentical hormones reduce your risk of breast cancer to a greater degree when compared to synthetic hormones. In particular, the combination of multiple bioidentical hormones can reduce your breast cancer risk.
  • Reduced risk of heart problems — Research supports the idea that bioidentical hormones are better for your cardiovascular system. This study found that bioidentical progesterone has a significantly smaller negative impact on blood lipids and blood clots than synthetic progestins.
  • Increased bone health — Bioidentical hormones have been found to support dense, healthy bones. Osteoporosis is a common condition in aging women, so bone health is an increasingly important issue as women approach and experience menopause.
  • Hormonal balance — bHRT may treat hormone imbalance and improve hormonal balance, especially in women going through hormone changes. This study shows how hormone balance and quality of life are improved in women living with breast cancer and going through breast cancer treatment.

Listen to Episode 229 of Behind Her Empire, on which I am the guest speaking on treating the root causes of hormone imbalances with functional medicine.

Types of Bioidentical Hormones

The primary bioidentical hormones are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone:

  • Bioidentical estrogen includes estradiol and estriol. Combined, these two forms of natural estrogen are sold under the name BiEST. I recommend BiEST for many female patients since this combination stimulates both primary estrogen receptors. Estrace is the brand name of a bioidentical estradiol.
  • Bioidentical progesterone is simply called progesterone or micronized progesterone, as opposed to synthetic progesterone hormones, which are called progestins or progestogens. Prometrium is the brand name of a bioidentical progesterone formulation.
  • Bioidentical testosterone is just called testosterone. It is often sourced from plants, such as yams, soy, or cactus.

Compounded bHRT refers to your doctor customizing the amounts of each type of hormone product you are prescribed. Other types of hormone therapy may not offer this customization, making it easier to study but harder to adjust for your individual needs.

Do you need a prescription for bioidentical hormones? Yes, you need a prescription for bioidentical hormones. Since a doctor needs to prepare a unique blend of safe hormones to suit your needs, a prescribing physician is necessary for both legal and logical reasons.

Some topical preparations of bioidentical progesterone are available without a prescription. However, we recommend still working with a medical provider to understand the best dose and frequency for your needs. 

Side Effects

There are side effects to taking hormone supplements, but bioidentical hormones may lessen the risk of these adverse reactions.

Potential hormone side effects include:

  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating, cramping
  • Skin irritation
  • Acne
  • Increased facial hair
  • Headache, migraine
  • Abnormal spotting
  • Vision changes
  • Libido changes
  • Blood clotting
  • Depression
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Breast tenderness
  • Breast cancer

What are the side effects of bioidentical hormones? Since bioidentical hormone preparations are meant to be safer than conventional hormone drugs, the main side effect of bHRT is that it costs more than run-of-the-mill HRT. bHRT (or BHT) should reduce HRT side effects. 

But bHRT does not have to break the bank. Many compounded formulations will be somewhere around $30-90 per month.

Read Next: Can Hormones Cause Anxiety? 

Risk Factors

The following conditions increase the risk of side effects of hormone therapy:

  • History of breast cancer
  • History of endometrial cancer
  • History of heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Vulnerability to blood clots
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pregnancy

Talk with your doctor about taking hormone therapy if you experience any of the above conditions. Although there is an increased risk if these conditions apply to you, that doesn’t mean hormone therapy isn’t right for you. It’s just worth discussing.

Bioidentical hormones are supposed to reduce your risk of side effects, so take this into consideration when discussing with your healthcare provider.

Who Should Take Bioidentical Hormones?

People experiencing menopause or perimenopause should consider taking bioidentical hormones. Bioidentical hormone therapy can reduce the symptoms of menopause. It may lower your risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.

If you are trying to get pregnant or suspect you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor of obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) about how customized bioidentical hormone therapy can help or hinder your journey.

An Individualized Approach to Menopause Treatment

The average age of menopause is 51. Women typically live for decades after their bodies naturally stop producing as much estrogen. We women need a healthy way to live with dignity and control over our health after menopause, and bioidentical estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone may be the answer.

Men may also benefit from custom compounded bioidentical testosterone and progesterone. If you’re looking into ways to increase your testosterone, talk to an integrative doctor with expertise in bioidentical hormones.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot approve custom formulations since every prescription will be a little different depending on the patient’s unique situation. Don’t let the lack of FDA approval (and a misguided Endocrine Society position statement) stop you from taking control of your hormonal health.

Using individualized amounts of bioidentical hormones, my colleagues and I have treated people just like you who are experiencing hormonal challenges.

Whether you have low estrogen, low testosterone, thyroid problems, or other endocrine disorders, schedule a free consultation with the experts at PrimeHealth in Denver, CO.

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