Like the Covid-19 vaccines, there's always been some debate and concern about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Hormone therapy is a standard treatment for uncomfortable menopause symptoms for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. But depending on what you read, it increases the risks for gynecological cancers, such as endometrial cancer.
But there are different types of hormone therapy and a difference between bioidentical hormones and traditional hormones. For bioidentical hormones, there is no cancer risk, and here's why.
Hormone replacement is precisely what the name implies— replacing the missing hormones with other ones. There are also different ways to administer the hormones, from hormone pills to transdermal creams.
Both men and women can have hormone replacement therapy. Typically, women have hormone therapy to balance estrogen or progesterone. Men, on the other hand, may need boosts of testosterone or DHEA.
Taking estrogen or progesterone works by helping to improve the low hormone levels. For women, estrogen and progesterone help regulate the menstrual cycle, fertility, bone health, and cardiovascular health.
Estrogen levels rise and then decrease as progesterone levels rise, depending on a woman's cycle. But if the levels are low, your body becomes out of balance leading to feeling down, tired, or moody. Bioidentical hormones help improve this imbalance.
Hormone therapy comes in two distinct types: traditional hormone therapy and compounded bioidentical hormone therapy. Traditional hormone therapy uses conjugated equine estrogen and other synthetic chemicals. The hormone therapy may be approved by the FDA, but the synthetic versions aren't natural and don't mimic the hormones in your body exactly.
Women taking bioidentical hormones aren't ingesting a synthetic hormone, but one made in compounding pharmacies using plant-based ingredients. Bioidentical hormones are safer because they mimic the same hormones in your body and don't have the same risk of breast cancer and other cancers for women.
The North American Menopause Society states that "hormone therapy is the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms." Compounded bioidenticals don't have a known cancer risk. In the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) randomized trial, the data produced first seemed to indicate an increased breast cancer risk.
But further analysis of the WHI trial showed that the treatment's safety and efficacy varied by age and, in some cases, very rare. It also depended on how long you had the hormones. Generally, taking hormones for five years is considered safe and only minimally raises the risk for cancer or blood clots. For women aged 50-59, the increased cancer risk wasn't present after taking hormones for seven years.
The risk increased higher for postmenopausal women more than ten years after menopause. But in some cases, the symptoms of hormonal imbalances outweigh the slightly increased risk. To put it into perspective, let's look at birth control pills.
Birth control pills use estrogen and progesterone to prevent conception and have risks, but women take them for years and rarely have health risks. The same can be said for bioidentical hormones.
Also, the women in the WHI study took traditional hormones made from synthetic ingredients. Not compounded bioidentical hormones made with natural ingredients and mimicking the ones produced in the body.
Bioidentical hormone therapy with estrogen and progesterone together is vital for women who still have a uterus. One purpose of estrogen is to build up the endometrium lining in the uterus. The endometrium needs to thicken in anticipation of the implantation of the fertilized egg. Estrogen provides this thickening in the first half of a woman's cycle.
Progesterone then helps with implantation and sustains a healthy pregnancy. But if no pregnancy occurs, then the thickened lining sheds, and the cycle begins. But high estrogen levels without progesterone balance, the lining remains thick and can result in cancerous cells building up.
If you don't have a uterus, there's no reason to worry about cancer cells building up due to excess estrogen. But if you do, taking progesterone along with estrogen is a must to prevent cancer.
Compounded bioidenticals have many benefits. The exact ones come from the type of hormone taken and the person's individual health concerns. The following are common uses for a compounded bioidentical hormone.
The most common use of bioidentical hormones is menopausal hormone therapy. Women can experience menopausal symptoms years before the onset of menopause. The definition of menopause is not having a period of 12 months or more. After that, a woman is considered in menopause.
But women's bodies are test driving lower hormones in the years before. Early menopause can even happen in a woman's thirties. Women in their forties regularly report hot flashes, irregular periods, and lethargy.
Bioidentical hormones come in different types of supplements. Naturopathic practitioners regularly prescribe estrogen and progesterone creams as a natural way to fight menopause. It should also be mentioned that menopause is natural and only a transition.
Women shouldn't be afraid or ashamed of this change. In essence, you're saying goodbye to having children but hello to feeling stronger and wiser as you enter into your golden years.
But this doesn't mean you have to suffer from hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, and the other pesky symptoms when you can alleviate them with transdermal hormone creams. The information out there constantly scares you into thinking that you're at this increased risk for cancer with bioidentical hormones.
If you read the studies, you become overwhelmed with the academic jargon. But in truth, the cancer risk is rare for women who take hormones for under five years. In fact, the WHI study showed that women taking hormones for seven years didn't have a risk for breast cancer.
Bioidentical hormones can help you live a better, more vital life without dealing with imbalances each day. After a while, the suffering adds up and causes emotional, psychological, and physical distress. Enjoy life to the fullest with bioidentical hormones.