The Beauty of Bioidentical Hormones
Julian Whitaker, MD
Just a few short years ago, the term bioidentical hormones didn’t register with many people. But enter that phrase into any Internet search engine today, and you’ll come up with hundreds of thousands of hits.
I’ve been prescribing and promoting bioidentical hormones for more than 20 years and can take some credit for their exposure. However, what’s really made the difference is the publicity stemming from celebrities like Suzanne Somers, who has written a number of books on the subject, and more recently Oprah Winfrey. After all, when Oprah talks, people listen.
Oprah’s story, which she has publicly shared, is one most women in their 40s and 50s can relate to. She was feeling tired, run down, and out of balance, and was having difficulty sleeping and regulating her weight. She finally took the advice of a friend and visited a doctor well-versed in bioidentical hormones. He reviewed her lab work and promptly concluded, “Your hormonal tank is empty. That is why you feel like your life force is being drained.”
So he started her on a hormone regimen. “After one day on bioidentical estrogen,” Oprah said, “I felt the veil lift. After three days, the sky was bluer, my brain was no longer fuzzy, my memory was sharper. I was literally singing and had a skip in my step.”
Avoid Synthetic/Horse Hormones
Fatigue, depression, anxiety, hot flashes, loss of libido, mood swings—millions of women endure these frustrating symptoms of menopause, sometimes for years on end. Most are told by their doctors to ride it out or try hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for relief. But that almost always means using prescription drugs such as Permarin (hormones extracted from the urine of pregnant mares) and Provera (progesterone that has been adulterated in order to obtain a patent).
Bad idea. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a large government-funded clinical trial on the use of Prempro (a combination of Premarin and Provera), was terminated early in 2002 when it was discovered that women taking this drug had an increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, blood clots, and heart attacks. Since then even more problems with these hormones have been uncovered, including increased risk of dementia and urinary incontinence. To make matters worse, it has been revealed that some of these adverse effects persist for years after the drugs are discontinued.
Although subsequent reviews of the WHI data have minimized some of the drugs’ dangers, as far as I’m concerned, no woman in her right mind would use conventional hormone replacement therapy—especially when bioidentical hormones are available.
Why Natural Hormones Are Better
Bioidentical hormones are identical to the hormones produced in a woman’s body. Because these are compounds the body is already familiar with, most of the concerns that arise with conventional HRT are not an issue.
According to a 2009 review of published studies, “Physiological data and clinical outcomes demonstrate that bioidentical hormones are associated with lower risks, including the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, and are more efficacious than their synthetic and animal-derived counterparts. Until evidence is found to the contrary, bioidentical hormones remain the preferred method of HRT.”
Natural hormones are also better tolerated. Drugs come in a limited number of standardized dosages and delivery systems, so there’s little room for addressing individualized needs. That’s one reason so many women have a hard time adjusting to Prempro, Premarin, Provera, and other conventional hormones. With bioidentical hormones, however, your doctor decides on the precise amount and combination of hormones that are right for you.
For example, a small amount of testosterone can be added to estrogen cream for women dealing with low libido, and special vaginal preparations can effectively relieve dryness. The physician then sends the prescription to a compounding pharmacist, who prepares it per these specifications. Imagine, a personalized prescription designed for your unique individual needs!
The FDA is hot on the trail of compounding pharmacies, and some of the hullabaloo comes back to standardization issues. They claim compounded hormones are dangerous because they don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. Even more onerous, they’ve banned estriol, a safe, weak form of estrogen that was used in the vast majority of bioidentical estrogen preparations. This outrageous edict has nothing to do with public safety. The FDA simply caved in to demands by the drug companies whose sales plummeted after the WHI study exposed the dangers of their shoddy, misrepresented products.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Hormone replacement isn’t just for women. Much as we men hate to admit it, there’s a male equivalent to menopause, commonly called andropause. Testosterone levels slowly decline as we get older, and the results start to become noticeable in our mid-40s, with reductions in libido, muscle mass, bone density and so on.
Once men in this age range begin using supplemental testosterone, muscle mass and bone density are restored, interest in sex perks up, and cardiovascular health shows signs of improvement.
At the Whitaker Wellness Institute, our doctors regularly prescribe natural hormones to men and women alike. Natural (Armour) thyroid is, in my opinion, a superior alternative to Synthroid and other synthetic thyroid hormone drugs. DHEA, a precursor to other hormones, improves bone mass, libido, and sense of well-being, especially in women. Human growth hormone (HGH) has a variety of therapeutic properties, from restoration of function in frail elderly people to bona fide anti-aging benefits.
If you ask your conventional doctor for bioidentical hormones, expect a blank stare. He probably won’t know anything about them. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort to find a physician who will work with you. Restoring your hormone levels to those of a young adult with bioidentical HRT can make a world of difference in how you look and feel.
- To locate a compounding pharmacy that formulates bioidentical hormones, contact the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP) by calling (800) 927-4227 or visiting iacprx.org.
- To schedule an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (800) 488-1500.
- Holtorf K. The bioidentical hormone debate: are bioidentical hormones (estradiol, estriol, and progesterone) safer or more efficacious than commonly used synthetic versions in hormone replacement therapy? Postgrad Med. 2009 Jan;121(1):73–85.
- Prentice RL, et al. Benefits and risks of postmenopausal hormone therapy when it is initiated soon after menopause. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 May 25. [Epub ahead of print].
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.