Bioidentical hormones have been heavily promoted as safe and effective – do they live up to the hype?

“Bio identical” hormones are often touted as being safer NHS-approved hormones. Some proponents claim that they are good substitute for traditional hormone therapy, while others make exaggerated claims that their products can reverse the signs of aging and prevent all manner of ailments.

The moment you wade into the online world of menopause message boards and advice groups, you’ll start to see recommendations for bio identical hormones. Proponents of these therapies are convinced that bio identical hormones have all of the benefits of traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) without the side effects.
Why do some women choose to take hormones for symptoms of menopause?
In the relatively recent past, doctors prescribed HRT to all women complaining of menopause symptoms as a matter of course. In addition to helping control unpleasant symptoms, it was also thought to prevent cardiovascular disease, something that has been debunked.

HRT can help to replace the hormones that are being produced at lower levels

As a result, it can help to relieve hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, lowered sex drive, and night sweats. It is also used to prevent osteoporosis, the weakening of the bones that becomes increasingly common after menopause.

What are bio identical hormones?

Bio identical hormones are comprised of plant sources, and are advertised as having the same benefits and effects on the body as human hormones. They claim to be a safer alternative to oestrogen-only HRT, as using this therapy for more than 10 years does come with an elevated risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Proponents of bio identical hormones claim that they are a more natural, ‘safer’ alternative to traditional hormone replacement therapies.

It is important to note that the term ‘bio identical’ does not have a standard definition in the medical field. The Endocrine Society defines it as “compounds that have exactly the same chemical and molecular structure as hormones that are produced in the human body.” However, the developers of these products are often not able to back up their claims that their BHRT is actually chemically identical to human hormones.

Traditional vs bio identical hormone therapies

Traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is derived from a mixture of synthetic hormones and pregnant horse urine. Alternatively, bio identical hormones are instead derived from plant oestrogens, called phytoestrogens.

As bio identical hormones are made of ‘natural’ ingredients, their proponents claim that they are more similar (or identical) to the hormones that your body already produces

However, most experts claim that they come with similar risks as traditional HRT, and can mislead patients. “Compounded bioidentical hormones may carry even more risks. There’s no credible evidence that BHRT is more effective than HRT.”

Do doctors recommend bioidentical hormones?

Despite the fact that providers of these treatments claim that, “the medical world has largely ignored Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT),” others say this is not the case. In fact, the medical field say they have studied bioidenticals extensively, and overwhelmingly determined that they are not safe or effective for treating the symptoms of menopause.

The UK’s NHS does not recommend bio identical hormones for the following reasons:

• they have not been proven effective for reducing the symptoms of menopause
• they are unregulated, and there is no evidence that they are safe
• there is no evidence that they are any safer for human use than standard HRT
• bio identical preparations usually use a balance of hormones based on the levels of hormone in your saliva, but there is no evidence that this level is connected to your symptoms
• Standard HRT hormones are closely regulated and, unlike bio identical hormones, they must undergo extensive testing and research to ensure that they are safe and effective, and that they do what they claim

Here are some of the most common claims about BHRT

Common claim: Bio identical hormones don’t need to be regulated, because they are molecular copies of female hormones, and not drugs.

Fact: The American FDA (Food and Drug Administration) defines drugs as “articles (other than food) that are intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.” Therefore, if BHRT is meant to relieve symptoms, it is a drug, and needs to be regulated.

Common claim: Doctors and drug companies rally against bio identical hormones because these natural substances are not lucrative.

Fact: This is nonsense, as vitamins and other natural health preparations are a huge industry. In reality, they do not recommend BHRT because it is not effective, and can be dangerous.

The final verdict about bio identical hormones

While BHRT may be effective in some cases with many who use them saying how much better they feel because of them, there is no evidence to suggest that it is ‘safer’ than traditional hormone therapy.

If you plan to undergo any form of hormone therapy, you should follow your doctor’s advice and take the lowest possible dose that will have results. Your GP and specialist will help you to determine which treatments and dosage is best for you.

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