By Mila McManus, M.D.
Bio-identical hormones are hormones that are near identical to the hormones our bodies produce. This is in contrast to conventional hormone replacement therapy (a.k.a HRT) which uses synthetic hormone-like drugs, such as birth control pills and other synthetic hormones used to treat menopausal symptoms in women. One might wonder why doctors would prescribe synthetic hormones when ‘real’ hormones are available. The answer involves understanding patent laws. Nobody can patent things that already occur naturally, so you can’t patent a palm tree, and drug companies can’t patent the structure of a real hormone. Since drug companies are in the business of making money, they want to be able to protect their property with patents, so they created synthetic hormones which they could patent. These are, unfortunately, the only hormones we learn to prescribe in medical school.
Some causes of hormone imbalance include stress, sleep deprivation, vitamin deficiencies, poor dietary habits, toxins, and side effects of various medications. The list of symptoms of hormonal imbalance is long. Some symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, depressed moods, decreased mental sharpness, anxiety, PMS, post-partum depression, decreased sex drive, unexplained weight gain and inability to lose weight, low motivation, headaches, hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular menstruation.
Benefits of balancing and optimizing hormones with bio-identical hormones include improvement or resolution of the above symptoms, improvement in bone density, preservation of brain function, reduced risk for heart disease, and increased overall sense of wellbeing, to name a few. Risks are minute compared to typical HRT with synthetic hormone-like drugs. For instance, there is virtually no risk of blood clots with bio-identical progesterone, whereas synthetic progestins are well-known to heighten the risk. It’s also noteworthy to say that the Women’s Health Initiative Study that revealed an increase in the incidence of breast cancer was based solely on the use of synthetic hormones. Moreover, keep in mind that cancer is the result of a perfect storm of events, and hormones are a tiny piece of that puzzle. Other factors that are linked to cancer that people tend to ignore are stress, sleep deprivation, poor dietary habits, vitamin and other nutrient deficiencies, and toxins.
A wonderful thing about bio-identical hormones is the ability to have them compounded into specific doses. For instance, one person may need 5mg twice daily of progesterone, while another may need 37.5mg twice daily. We can order various doses in various forms, such as creams, pills, lozenges, injections, and pellets. Doses are fine-tuned based on resolution of symptoms and other factors. This is not possible with most commercially-available options.
As has happened in the past, the FDA is again gearing up to issue a ban on compounded bioidentical hormone replacement therapy under the disguise of insufficient evidence of safety and effectiveness, when it is just one of the ways the FDA and the government bolster drug monopolies and undermine natural health options. Interestingly, it is the FDA-approved synthetic hormones that are known for common side effects including headaches, breast tenderness, mood swings, fluid retention, weight gain, and loss of libido. They are also associated with an increased incidence of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots to the lungs. And there are numerous and severe side effects of synthetic hormones listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference.
As a functional medicine physician, I would be very saddened to see compounded bioidentical hormones banned. So please take 60 seconds to join the fight! Click this LINK to sign the petition.
On a final note, while not optimal or easily customized to patients’ individual needs, if bio-identical hormones are banned in the future, there will be some alternatives! There are a few bio-identical hormones that are commercially available, made possible by the drug companies patenting a delivery mechanism, for instance, such as a patch.