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Are “Bioidentical” Hormones Right For You?

Bioidentical hormones are among the newest health care controversies. Certainly, they have their critics. Yet untold women (and their doctors) are increasingly inclined to rely on them to safely address the worst symptoms of menopause – including menopause vagina dryness.

What are bioidentical hormones?

They’re prescription drugs that have a molecular structure identical to the hormones a woman’s body makes on its own prior to menopause.  Since large pharmaceutical companies cannot legally patent a bioidentical structure, they’ve develop synthetic replicas, which are patentable. These patented drugs are what most women think of when they hear the phrase “hormone replacement therapy.”

Just as younger women naturally produce two major reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, there are two categories of bioidentical hormones—those that match estrogen and the one that matches progesterone. Women who choose to use bioidenticals usually need to take both.   

Some bioidenticals are taken in pill form. Others come as patches. Some can be applied as a vaginal cream. And a few can be formulated as a cream or gel that’s rubbed directly into your skin. Some are FDA-approved and available with a prescription at your neighborhood pharmacy. Others must be individually formulated, according to your doctor’s instructions, at a compounding pharmacy.

Is bioidentical hormone therapy natural?

Bioidentical hormones are not found in nature. Bioidentical estrogen, for example, is synthesized from plant chemicals extracted from yams and soy.  Bioidentical progesterone is finely ground in a laboratory so that it will be more easily absorbed by the body. In these ways, bioidentical hormones are not natural.

Still, bioidentical agents act in the body just like the hormones that women produce. And the body can’t distinguish them from the ones you produce on your own. So, for example, a blood test will reflect your overall estrogen level—the bioidentical estradiol you’ve taken right along with whatever estradiol your body has produced. 

Are bioidenticals safer than traditional hormone replacement?

Unfortunately, the jury is still out. Studies indicate that bioidenticals can help relieve hot flashes and ease vaginal dryness, but few large studies have investigated the relative safety of traditional HRT versus bioidentical agents.

On the other hand, because bioidentical hormones are molecular replicas of your body’s own hormones, some experts say that you can metabolize them as your body was designed to, minimizing side effects.

What are “compounded” hormones?

They’re a special category of bioidenticals, prescribed by a doctor for patients who need individualized hormone combinations, doses or preparations. For example, if you have an allergy to one of the additives in an established FDA-approved bioidentical product, then your doctor can send you to a compounding pharmacy where they can formulate pills or creams that exclude that ingredient.

Although compounded hormones contain many of the same ingredients as FDA-approved products, the end result is not officially approved or regulated. Still, says FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health, Dr. Kathleen Uhl, “There’s no reason to think that these bioidentical [products] would have a different safety profile than the FDA-ones.” 

Can bioidentical hormones be used permanently?

Opinions differ. Just as bioidentical hormones are likely as safe as more traditional regimens, many doctors caution that they probably expose women to comparable medical risk. That’s a major reason why most doctors discourage patients from using them indefinitely.

However, New York’s Erika Schwartz, MD, is representative of physicians who are willing to support a bioidentical regimen for long periods of time.  Pointing out that bioidenticals are chemically different from the old hormone therapy drugs, Dr. Schwatrz has been prescribing them for 14 years and takes them herself. “I feel great and the women I work with feel great,” she says. “I have no complaints.” 

What’s the takeaway?

Menopause is a natural phase in a healthy woman’s reproductive life. Bioidentical hormones can be one part of a larger campaign to make it more comfortable and fulfilling.  Crème de la Femme can be another part. The world’s finest all-natural, non-hormonal vaginal lubricant, Crème relieves intimate tissue instantly, without hormones of any kind. And it offers silky-smooth moisture that lasts for hours.

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Causes of Vaginal Dryness, while many, can be relieved with Creme de la Femme.

 

 

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