There has been increasing curiosity, both in- and outside the medical community, surrounding the supposed benefits of a natural approach to hormone therapy and bioidentical hormones. In theory, bioidentical hormones can be used in a treatment program to compensate for declined production of hormones in a person's body. This is particularly relevant for women experiencing hormonal imbalance due to menopause.
This page gives a clear explanation of what bioidentical hormones are, their difference from traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and a summary of their benefits and side effects.
What Are Bioidentical Hormones?
Bioidentical hormones are plant-based or compounded hormones that are structurally identical to the hormones produced naturally by the body. Scientifically manipulated in a laboratory setting, bioidentical hormones are designed to copy the effects of “real” hormones and are typically extracted from the yam and soybean plants.
Bioidentical hormones are commonly used to relieve the symptoms of menopause and other hormonal imbalances.
Read on to learn about the differences between bioidentical and standard synthetic hormones.
Differences between Bioidentical Hormones and Standard Hormones Used in HRT
The most fundamental difference between bioidentical hormones and standard hormones used in HRT treatments is that while bioidenticals are derived from plants, the latter are taken from synthetic, or laboratory-made chemicals. Furthermore, while synthetic hormones are available only in oral form, bioidentical hormones can be absorbed by the body through pills, patches, creams, lotions, or vaginal rings.
Bear in mind that since these two forms of hormone therapy are manufactured outside the body, they carry a handful of side effects.
Risks and Benefits of Bioidentical Hormones
The jury is still out on the safety of bioidentical hormones versus synthetic hormones, but studies suggest that bioidentical hormones can help relieve menopausal symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.
Despite this evidence, the full range of risks and benefits of bioidentical hormones has yet to be outlined conclusively and comprehensively. Theoretically, because bioidentical hormones are structurally identical to the body's own, they are more easily metabolized, thus minimizing the occurrence and severity of side effects. Unfortunately, the risks appear to be similar to that of HRT, including increased risk of heart attack, fluid retention, yeast infection, and breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
Use of Bioidentical Hormones in HRT
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) refers to the replacement of hormones made naturally in the body with hormones that are plant-derived, yet identical in chemical structure and function. This process has been endorsed by celebrities and medical professionals alike as safer than traditional HRT, though no conclusive evidence exists.
BHRT also encompasses the conversion of different hormones to pill, patch, and cream forms. Because the benefits and side effects of BHRT remain in question, other, safer treatment methods are recommended.
To learn about safer, natural options to bioidenticals, go to the section about alternative treatments to BHRT. If more information on the most frequently used forms of bioidentical hormones is desired, click on common bioidentical hormones.