The Ups & Downs of Bioidentical Hormones: Everything You Should Know

You may have heard hormone replacement therapy is harmful, yet your doctor says it is safe. You get a second opinion from a naturopath who tells you the only safe hormones are bioidentical hormones made from yams, and she will write you a prescription for a special cream sent to a compounding pharmacy that your insurance doesn't cover. Now you don't know who to believe--was your doctor misinformed?

Your mom told you tell you horror stories of "hormones” causing cancer and strokes yet your best friend tells you hormones brought saved her marriage and her sanity.

You look it up on Google and the information is conflicting.

Hormones are The Fountain of Youth!

Hormones cause breast cancer and strokes!

You don’t know what to believe.

This is part one of a series on perimenopause and menopause that helps you sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly so you can make an informed decision.

At Hearthside Medicine, we want you to be aware of the risks and benefits of all treatments and empower you to make an informed decision. While we lean towards bioidentical hormones over synthetic hormones, it's important to note that hormones are not safe for everyone.

"Bioidentical hormones" (bHRT) certainly has become a BUZZword in the natural health industry and in women's health circles. They are often touted as being "safe and all natural" and "derived from plants."

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reports that about 1.4 million women are using bioidentical hormones (bHRT) and that 40% of all prescriptions for menopausal hormone therapy are for bHRT.

Here are some common questions we field at Hearthside Medicine:

Why might I benefit from hormones?

Do hormones cause breast cancer and strokes?

Is bioidentical really all natural?

Can I just use those over the counter menopause supplements?

Are hormones regulated by the FDA to ensure they contain what they say they contain and meet safety standards?

Is one route safer than other routes?

Who should NOT take them?

What side effects do I need to be aware of?

When can I or should I start them and for how long?

What is the difference between a compounded hormone and what I can get at a regular pharmacy?

What can I try instead of hormones for my perimenopause symptoms?

At Hearthside Medicine, we are all about supporting our patients with the safest and most natural options available, so let's run through these questions together!

First, why consider hormones?

Most people start to weigh their options and explore the idea of hormones when they start to experience symptoms of perimenopause or when they undergo a surgery that puts them into immediate menopause (induced menopause/surgical menopause). Others will look first for holistic options and supplements to treat their symptoms (we have an entire blog for that! Check it out:

Signs of perimenopause may include some or all of the following:

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Insomnia (due to night hot flashes)

  • Lack of energy

  • Mental haziness

  • Mood swings

  • Depression

  • Decreased libido

  • Decreased ability to achieve orgasm

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Bone loss

  • Elevation of cholesterol, decrease in good cholesterol (HDL) and increase in bad cholesterol (LDL)

  • Deregulation of carbohydrate metabolism

  • Frequent vaginal and urinary infections

  • Weight gain

  • Hair loss

  • Skin dryness

  • Deregulation of thyroid hormone

Perimenopause can start as early as 10 years before menopause, and the average age of menopause is 51--meaning, if you are headed into your 40 or already there, the above symptoms may already be happening.

To better understand what is happening in your body from a physiologic perspective and how low hormones can impact your overall health in depth, read my blog about perimenopause & menopause

How can taking hormones help me?