Bio-identical hormones are made to have the same molecular structure as the hormones made by your own body. Synthetic hormones are made to be completely different. Drug companies aren't allowed patent a bio-identical structure, so they invent synthetic hormones that are patentable.
Though bio-identical hormones have been around for years, people as well as some doctors are very unfamiliar with them. There are several branded versions now available for use in the kind of hormone replacement therapy ("HRT") typical of synthetic hormones.
Basically, it has become a conclusion that bio-identical are much better than the synthetic hormones. The bio-identical hormones are natural and therefore work much better with our bodies like they were there naturally. This causes much fewer side effects. The synthetic hormones can cause many very strong side effects because of their harshness in nature. Basically, the bio-identical hormones can be matched to each individual woman's needs rather than a mass production of hormones that "might' work. By working with each person individually, it gives more of a guaranty that the results will be higher, and the side effects lower.
Bioidentical estrogen and progesterone are available in FDA-approved hormone therapy products, including:
These products are available to you in many different doses and forms. But the fact is, with more and more testing of these new individualized compounds, they are slowing becoming more and more popular. This new way of distributing hormones makes it so that there is no "one-dose-fits-all". You receive testing to determine which hormones your body has slowed production on, and which ones you need. If it's determined that you only need a small dose of estrogen, these new compounds allow that, rather than giving everyone the same dose.
Bioidentical hormones are manufactured in the lab to have the same molecular structure as the hormones made by your own body. By contrast, synthetic hormones are intentionally different. Drug companies can't patent a bioidentical structure, so they invent synthetic hormones that are patentable (Premarin, Prempro, and Provera being the most widely used examples).
Though bioidentical hormones have been around for years, most practitioners are unfamiliar with them. There are several branded versions now available for use in the kind of hormone replacement therapy typical of synthetic hormones. This is often a one-size-fits-all dosage regime.
In our practice, we have had the greatest success with an individualized approach. We begin with laboratory tests of hormone levels (a so-called "hormone panel"). When warranted, we then prescribe a precise dosage of bioidentical estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, and/or DHEA that is prepared at a registered compounding pharmacy. Each patient is then monitored carefully through regular follow-up hormone panels to ensure she gets symptom relief at the lowest possible dosage. In the initial stages, we will do a hormone panel every three months. Once balance is restored, we'll do one panel a year at the time of the annual exam.
Is bHRT the first step to hormonal balance?
Bioidentical hormones can work wonders, but they aren't necessarily the first place to turn when hormonal imbalance is a problem. In our experience, the great majority of women can rebalance their hormones without the use of drugs, and even without HRT in any form. We have found that about 85% can find relief through a natural approach that combines medical-grade nutritional supplements, gentle endocrine support, and dietary and lifestyle changes. We recommend that every woman start with this combination approach as the foundation to her health.
Even with this foundation, a minority of women will need to add prescription-strength hormone supplements to get complete relief, at least through a transition period. We recommend they use bioidentical hormones, preferably in a compounded form personalized to their needs by an experienced practitioner. When a woman can't find a practitioner to prescribe compounded bHRT, there are now numerous trademarked bHRT options that conventional practitioners can prescribe for her.
Either way, it's important that the hormones be used in addition to the combination approach outlined above. Note that Suzanne Somers and Oprah are among this minority — they began with a healthy diet and lifestyle that supported the endocrine system, but still experienced intractable symptoms.
We don't recommend that any hormones be used long-term unless essential for symptom relief, and then only with a complete risk assessment. We also don't support the idea that bioidentical hormone therapy should be used indefinitely as some kind of fountain of youth.
We long ago concluded that the answer to this question is yes. But that doesn't mean bioidentical hormones are perfect.
The great appeal of bioidentical hormones is that they are natural, and our bodies can metabolize them as it was designed to do, minimizing side effects. Synthetic hormones are quite strong and often produce intolerable side effects. Moreover, the compounded bioidentical hormones can be matched individually to each woman's needs — something that's just impossible with mass-produced products.
European medical studies suggest that yes, bioidentical hormones are safer than synthetic versions. This makes perfect sense. But we must be cautious here, because they have not been well studied, especially for long-term use. And in any case, we recommend that women never think of any drug as completely safe.
Call to schedule your free consultation to learn more about bio-identical hormone therapy and whether it's right for you.