Bioidentical hormones refer to a group of hormone treatments sometimes referred to as “natural” because the types of hormones used are chemically identical (according to molecular structure) to those produced by the human body.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is most commonly used to help resolve symptoms related to hormonal imbalance. Age related hormone decline is one of the most common reasons for hormone imbalances, however, hormones may become imbalanced at any time due to stress, lack of sleep, poor lifestyle choices, and poor nutrition. Hormonal imbalances can also lead to a whole host of gynecological conditions such as PCOS, endometrial hyperplasia, vulvodynia, and vaginal atrophy amongst others.
Specific hormones that BHRT aims to increase or balance include those tied to reproduction and youth, such as estrogen (in the form of estriol or estradiol), progesterone, and sometimes testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), thyroid, and adrenal hormones. During the years leading up to menopause, and then through this transition, a woman’s body produces less of these hormones (especially estrogen), which may lead to symptoms like fatigue, hot flashes/night sweats, vaginal dryness and thinning bones. All the hormones must work together to keep the body in balance. When they are out of balance, symptoms develop and disease may follow.
BHRT treatments may be available as creams, lotions, injections, implants, vaginal suppositories, gels or capsules that have the goal of raising hormone levels back up to a more youthful state. Some dosage forms are preferred over others to reduce potentially harmful side effects. For example, estrogens should not be taken orally since it may lead to higher blood clotting risks when processed through the liver.
Some Benefits of Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
a) May Prevent Heart Disease
The incidence of heart disease sky rockets in the menopausal years. In fact. It is the number one killer of women over the age of 65 is heart disease. Bioidentical estrogen’s positive known effects on the cardiovascular system include:
- Increased HDL cholesterol (the good kind)
- Decreased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
- Soaks up free radicals, naturally occurring particles in the blood that can damage the arteries and other tissue
- Relaxes, smooths and dilates blood vessels so blood flow increases
Estrogen probably affects the cardiovascular system in other ways that are as yet undiscovered. New research continues to give scientists and physicians more information – and raise more questions about this important and controversial hormone.
b) May Help Balance Moods
Hormone fluctuations can cause mood swings due to hormonal interference with blood sugar and brain chemistry. Balanced hormones can remedy feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression.
c) Might Help Protect Bones
Many studies have found that estrogen and testosterone have benefits for preventing bone loss, while progesterone has benefits for building new bone. Research suggests that BHRT might help defend against problems like osteoporosis or hip fractures. A major landmark study called the Women’s Health Initiative, did demonstrate reduced hip fracture risk when estrogen and progesterone levels were restored.
d) May Help Improve Energy & Vitality
Fluctuations of hormones can cause blood sugar to not be processed properly, and this can cause feelings of fatigue. When hormones are balanced, the body can effectively produce energy to restore and increase vitality.
e) May Promote Increased Muscle Mass & Fat Loss
A testosterone deficiency can occur in both men and women. Testosterone directly affects the building of muscle. If testosterone levels are too low muscle mass will decrease.
Muscle influences the burning of calories. When muscle is abundant, fat stores are tapped into in order to sustain energy. If estrogen is low for either a man or woman, the body attempts to conserve estrogen by storing extra fat. This is because fat contains estrogen. Adding regular amounts of estrogen to the body can decrease fat storage.
f) Can Help Decrease Hot Flashes/Night Sweats and Improve Sleep
A plethora of clinical studies have found that use of BHRT is highly effective in alleviating hot flashes and night sweats, two of the most common symptoms associated with menopause and sleep disturbances. One 2001 study that tested the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) versus a placebo in hot flash symptom frequency and severity found that HRT resulted in an average 77% reduction in symptom frequency and also lowered severity of symptoms, and did not cause more side effects or withdrawal than placebo.
g) May Improve Sex Drive and Reduce Vaginal Dryness
Up to 45 percent of menopause or postmenopausal women might be affected by vaginal atrophy, which causes symptoms like vaginal dryness, pain during sex, itching, irritation, burning and discharge. Hormone replacement drugs used for about one year or less are often prescribed to alleviate these symptoms.
Reported benefits of using HRT for vaginal atrophy includes sustained relief of symptoms as well as physiological improvements thanks to increases in estrogen including a decreased vaginal pH, increased blood flow, increased epithelial thickness, and increased lubrication
How Else Can You Balance Hormones Naturally?
Before initiating BHRT, lifestyle changes are a must. Chances are your weight, sleep, mood and energy would greatly improve if you tried some of the following hormone-balancing solutions:
- Dietary changes: Reduce intake of inflammatory foods and empty calories, like added sugar, refined grains, processed oils, fried foods and packaged products. Consider focusing on eating more fiber, getting more antioxidants from fresh veggies and fruit, and limiting refined carbs from too many grains if weight loss is your goal.
- Stress management: Emotional stress can take a major toll on the body, lowering immunity and disturbing hormonal balance. Try natural stress relievers like exercise, essential oils, meditation and spending more time outdoors.
- Acupuncture: Useful for lowering anxiety or stress, it helps decrease pain and holds other benefits as well.
- Exercise: Exercise reduces inflammation, helps improve sleep and can help you stay at a healthy weight more easily throughout adulthood.
By recharging the hormones, it is possible to maintain metabolic and endocrine functions at optimal levels so that each individual can benefit from a healthy and vigorous life.