So just what are Bio Identical Hormones? We ask our expert Doctor Johanna Ward for her thoughts on this breakthrough in women’s health
Hormones are vital chemical messengers that send signals to the body each and every day telling it to perform both mundane and extraordinary tasks. They stimulate, regulate and control virtually all biologic processes from sexual reproduction, to immune function, to growth and metabolism. Furthermore they signal huge changes in our lives such as puberty, menopause, ageing and death.
As we age our bodies go through major hormone shifts. In puberty hormones trigger the development of secondary sexual characteristics and the start of adult life: In age, falling hormone levels trigger the start of a long process of decline. This decline in hormones is experienced by both men and women and is called the menopause and andropause respectively. This gradual hormone failure has a huge impact on our general wellbeing. Physical and psychological symptoms such as bone thinning, memory loss, low libido, hot flushes, fatigue and depression are common and have been endured by many.
So how can we stop the impact of hormone decline? Can we naturally replenish hormones? What are Bio-identical hormones?
Traditionally menopause and to a lesser extent andropause have been managed using synthetic hormones, as in the case of most HRT medicines. The problem with using synthetic hormones is that we are not replacing like for like and as a consequence people can suffer unwanted side effects. For example, Premarin, one of the most widely used synthetic progesterone hormones is made from pregnant horses’ urine. In other words, women are taking derivatives of horse hormones that are not matched to their own hormones to deal with the symptoms of menopause. Because non identical hormones behave differently to the hormone they are intended to replace they can cause unwanted side effects.
Furthermore in 2002 a huge study into HRT called the Women’s Health Initiative had to be stopped prematurely due to a 26% increase in invasive breast cancer, 41% increase in stroke and 29% increase in heart attacks in the HRT group. This was the bombshell that changed public perception about HRT and made us all look at other options to help manage the symptoms of hormonal decline.
After the Women’s Health Initiate the NHS approach to HRT very much changed. Whereas we once might have heard Doctors urging women to weigh up the pros and cons of HRT but to make a decision based on quality of life and symptom relief, nowadays HRT is seen as a short term option.
In this new age and with our new understanding of the risks of synthetic hormone treatments, what options are available for those experiencing hormone related symptoms making them feel unbalanced and unwell? Many people want and need more than short term symptom relief so what choices are left?
Bio-identical hormones have become hugely popular since the findings of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative as people push for more natural and healthier ways to live. Bio-Identical hormones are 100% identical in chemical structure to your own hormones and their effects and benefits closely replicate your own hormones. They are sourced from nature from the Mexican Yam or from the Soya bean and are the exact match to the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Hormones contained in most conventional treatments like HRT are artificial, synthetic and molecularly different to the hormones produced in the body.
Because bio-identical hormones have the same molecular structure as human hormones, unwanted side effects are reduced and doses can be lower. In addition, bio-identical hormones are by their very nature, made especially and uniquely for each and every person. In the UK they are generally compounded in a pharmacy customised for every person. This means doses are tailored to suit each and every patient rather than standardised by a pharmaceutical company. This kind of bespoke hormone replacement delivers a more tailored and unique replacement for the patient.
A few very basic bio-identical hormones are currently available on the NHS also. In the future it is likely that this will be developed further so as to offer more choice for men and women seeking bio-identical hormone therapy. In the USA there are plenty of FDA approved bio-identical hormones for physics and patients to work with.
What can Bio-identical hormones be used to treat?
-Anxiety, depression, memory loss
Are Bio-Identical hormones safer than conventional HRT?
All hormone therapy carries a theoretical risk. Unfortunately bio-identical hormones have not been the subject of nearly enough scientific study, probably because they are derived from nature and the big pharmaceutical companies cannot patent something that exists freely in nature. Because the big pharmaceutical companies have had little involvement in Bio-Identical hormones in the UK we have very few legitimate and rigorous studies into the risk and safety profile of them. It is after all the big pharmaceutical companies that normally fund these kinds of studies.
Given that not enough studies have been done to prove that Bio-identical hormones are a safer alternative to HRT it is down to individual physicians to manage their patients appropriately.
There are some general (and very sensible) rules when it comes to hormone therapy that you should follow if you are considering exploring the option of using bio-identicals.
- Always work with a physician and never buy hormones or any medicines online
- Use doses that provide normal physiologic tissue levels (your Doctor will do this for you)
- Use hormones for as short a time as possible
- Stop smoking, reduce stress and sleep well to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease
- Optimise your nutrition eg. reduce sugar, reduce dairy, reduce red meat, eat good fats (omega 3), proper intake of vitamins and minerals
- Filter the water you drink or drink mineral water to remove environmental xenoestrogens and hormones
ASK THE EXPERT
Dr Johanna Ward is a Gp, presenter and co-founder of ZENii, a skincare, supplements and wellness company that seeks to provide intelligent anti-ageing and healthcare advice. ZENii is founded on the principles of protect, nourish, fortify and repair and seeks to educate the smart consumer to make better choices to become healthy & happy.
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