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Is BHRT the Fountain of Youth?

March 16th, 2012

Is BHRT the Fountain of Youth?

Bio-identical Hormones 101 -
An Introduction to BHRT for Women

by John Morgenthaler

Oprah Winfrey admits that entering menopause left her feeling "out of kilter" as she dealt with symptoms that she suspected were hormonal. She asked a friend for advice and then, like so many other women, turned to Suzanne Somers' books, Ageless and Breakthrough to learn more about hormone imbalance and recommended doctors who focus on natural hormone treatments. Oprah visited with one of these specialists and, after being told her "hormonal tank was empty", received a prescription for bio-identical estrogen.

"After one day on bio-identical estrogen, I felt the veil lift," Winfrey wrote in an O magazine piece that tackled the topic of hormones and women’s health. "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." Oprah invited Suzanne Somers on her show to talk about these natural treatments and the doctors willing to prescribe them, stating, "If you and I, as famous women, have had such difficulty finding a doctor to take us seriously and who understands how to give us back our quality of life, imagine what is happening with the average American woman?"

Just what is it that Suzanne and Oprah want women to know? Leading holistic physician and author of one of Smart Publications' most popular books, Stay Young & Sexy with Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement, Dr. Jonathan Wright is one of Suzanne's favorites for discussing non-chemical, non-drug approaches for taking care of the body. He, along with co-author Dr. Lane Lenard, are here to explain the basics of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and how a better understanding of different hormone options can empower women to make the right decisions concerning their health.

What are Bio-identical Hormones?

Bio-identical hormones are an exact chemical and molecular match to those hormones made naturally by humans. Derived from natural plant sources such as soy and wild yam extracts, bio-identical hormone therapy (BHRT) is often called “natural hormone therapy” because bio-identicals act in the body just like the hormones we produce.

Synthetic vs. Bio-identical Hormones

For decades, women who complained to their doctor about menopausal symptoms were typically prescribed conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The key difference between HRT and BHRT? HRT uses synthetic hormones, most commonly Premarin (estrogen synthesized from pregnant mares' urine), Provera (a chemical progesterone substitute) or Prempro, which is a combination of the two.

Over time, studies have shown that synthetic hormones are not compatible with the human body because they don't always react the same way in human cell receptors. In 2002, a major study on HRT, called the Women’s Health Initiative, revealed that use of synthetic hormones raises the risk of breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and heart disease. The results were so alarming that the study had to be discontinued and, as news spread across the country, millions of women stopped using HRT.

Because bio-identical hormones are identical in molecular structure to the hormones women make in their bodies, they respond and act just like your own hormone and form the same type of estrogen (estradiol) and progesterone you have in your body right now. This makes it much easier to measure and keep track of hormone levels, ensuring you receive the dosage of hormones that best matches your needs.

BHRT for Anti-Aging

Replacing depleted hormone levels through BHRT can safely and significantly reduce symptoms of menopause... and much more. Research is constantly emerging that shows BHRT helps to:

  •     Reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness and thinning
  •     Prevent osteoporosis
  •     Maintain greater muscle mass and strength
  •     Protect against heart attacks and strokes
  •     Improve blood cholesterol levels
  •     Reduce the risks of uterine and breast cancer
  •     Reduce the risk of depression
  •     Improve sleep, mood, concentration, and memory
  •     Prevent senility and Alzheimer's disease
  •     Enhance libido/sex drive


When it comes to slowing down the aging process, bioidenticals may be especially helpful. According to Dr. Wright, BHRT can noticeably improve the physical appearance of aging for any woman who uses it properly and regularly. As he writes, “Nearly any woman who’s used BHRT for 5 to 10 years notices herself and hears from others that she ‘doesn't look her age.’ ” This is likely due to estrogen’s beneficial “fountain of youth” effects on skin.   

And don’t think BHRT is for women only. Dr. Wright also touts bioidentical testosterone replacement for men as a way to retain health and virility well into a man’s senior years. The same doctors who prescribe BHRT for women are also able to help men determine their needs.

How Do I Find Bioidentical Hormones?

Bioidentical estrogens and progesterone have been made into a number of FDA-approved formulations. Prescribed hormones, BHRT forms, are available through your doctor and easily filled at your local pharmacy. Bioidentical estrogen comes in several standard forms, including pill, transdermal patch, and creams. Bioidentical progesterone typically comes in a capsule or as a gel.

Other bioidentical hormone preparations are made at special pharmacies called compounding pharmacies. This type of pharmacy if often preferred because it allows a woman and her doctor to create a uniquely tailored dose and combination of bioidentical hormones. Compounding pharmacies can also add hormones to non-standard preparations such as lozenges or vaginal suppositories for more direct application.

Is BHRT Right for Me?

Working with your doctor or practitioner, you will first need to determine your current hormone levels to see if hormone therapy is truly needed. Don’t take extra hormones if you don’t need them! In addition to a standard hormone panel to show levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA (a precursor hormone to estrogen and testosterone), a few extra tests may be run to verify that you are nearing menopause. One common test checks levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). High FSH, combined with irregular periods, is a good indicator of perimenopause.

Before taking BHRT, you will also need to consider the risks that accompany taking any medication. There is a large body of research that backs up bioidentical hormone therapy as safer and more effective than conventionally prescribed synthetic HRT. It is important, however, to remember that no drug or supplement is 100 percent safe. Consulting with a hormone specialist before beginning any hormone therapy regimen is the best way to ensure correct dosing and safe-guard yourself against side effects.

Additional Information

For additional information on BHRT and drugs used in conventional HRT, please see our articles found here:

What is Bio-identical Hormone Replacement?

Bio-identical Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy vs. Conventional (Traditional) HRT

Hormone Replacement Therapy & The Women's Health Initiative Study

Doctors and Prescribed Hormones: HRT & BHRT

Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy Safety

Conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy is NOT Safe!

Side Effects of the Progestins – the Drugs Used to Replace Human Progesterone in Conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy

Progestins – what other risks and side effects could they cause besides breast cancer, bone loss, cardiovascular disease and loss of libido?

Resources

What Oprah Knows for Sure about Menopause and Hormones

Suzanne Somers Blog Topics on Bioidentical Hormones

189 Comments

I did ask my gyn (who does prescribe bio-identicals (she had a year special training in menopaual sexual issues) and she said the risk of restarting hormone therapy after being off for 10 years is too high.  I am 68, turning 69 in August, was on estrogen patch with progesterone for 5 years after menopause, then stopped.

OK. You could accept her recommendation or seek a second opinion. Remember that it is your choice. I’m curious what risks she was talking about.

Also, if you are not doing BHRT I hope you are doing all the other things to prevent osteoporosis including vitamin K2 and D3. See this excellent book for details:
http://www.smart-publications.com/books/your-bones-prevent-osteoporosis-have-strong-bones-naturally/

I am 68 and my Dr. told me the risk of cancer and other bad things have come out in a study about not using them for 10 to 20 years.  I hated hearing this I wanted to take them.  I am going to check with an alternative Dr. to see what they think.  If you have any info about this please let me know.
Thanks
Anne

Hello Anne: It is true that conventional HRT has been linked to cancer. This is not true of bio-identical hormone replacement (BHRT). And, with BHRT you get many other health benefits.

I used BHRT for for almost nine years. Now at age 70,I am reevaluating the whole issue of the so called the “Hormonal Balance”.Many of the other hormons in the body,no one is talking about them;yet they influence the effectiveness of theBHRT.I would like information on the subject,and how to proceed from here.I hope some one can address this issue.Who is really knowledgabale on the subject of all the hormons and the glands and their interactions and effects on the brain, and the best formulation of the BHRT as the body is changing…...

The risk the doctor mentioned in my first post was for strokes.  Not an easy choice,  Thanks for the post about “Your Bones”, did read that and Lara posts on National Osteoporosis Foundation all the time.  She takes bio-identical hormones.

I think it is important to find yourself a doctor that specializes in bio-identical Hormone Replacement.  It’s important to be tested at least twice a year, and make sure that all of the Identical hormones are at their proper levels. 

I have been taking bio- identical since 1985.  During that time mainstream doctors have been telling me to stop taking them; that the risk is too dangerous.  I read Dr. Wrights book years ago, and talked my family doc into talking to my compounding pharmacist, and that is how I got started.

Now I have a specialist who practices in Downingtown PA on Manor ave.  His name is Dr. Daniel Beninati.  This doctor makes sure that all of the the different estrogens in my body are at their correct levels.  I feel better, and I don’t worry,as I feel healthier with estrogens that are identical to my own body.  I am 64 years old and had a hysterectomy at age 37.  I have been taking BHRT ever since.  Back then I was only taking one kind of estrogen, but then I read Dr. Wrights book and learned I needed more. 

Educate yourself, do the research, and depend on what you learn to stay healthy, is my opinion.  Reading Dr. Wrights book is a great place to start, and then find yourself a specialist in BHRT to keep your levels in check.  You’ll be so glad you did.

I have been taking BHRTfor nine years and I am now 70.  There is no doubt in my mind that they have helped me maintain a younger looking complexion and I have not lost any height. My doctor is amazed at my bone density tests. Some of my friends have been reluctant to try the therapy but now they are re-thinking.

Doed Dr. Wright address the issue of being off estrogen for over 10 years and dangers of trying to restart again.  I am going on 69, and would love to take it BUT not if stroke is a serious risk.

Hi Marilyn: I have never heard of any reason to be concerned about the risk you are describing. Can you point me to any authoritative, science-based information which may clarify this alleged risk? Until then, my opinion is that there is no such risk with BHRT.

I understand that fear sells. But, with all due respect to your doctor, if someone claims that there is a risk of stroke with some therapy, it is incumbent upon them to prove it or, at least, say why they have such a speculation. All the scientific and clinical data shows that BHRT is a fundamentally different therapy than conventional HRT, and that BHRT makes you more healthy and extends your youthful years. And all of this data is, indeed, documented in Dr. Wright’s book.

My doctor doesn’t believe in HRT, I am not sure if she’s right or not…

I was on bio-identical for 6 months-implanted under the skin- felt great! had energy, mind was sharp (finally), had a sex drive, etc. The problem was, the DR’s office providing them just ran us through like a cattle-call, and the cost was out of this world, and my insurance covered maybe $35. out of $500. for each visit.  I just couldn’t afford it on my salary- it’s barely above min wage. And I swear, every other time I came, it was a placebo, and then the next time, the real thing. And I wasn’t the only one complaining about that.  I just wasn’t happy with the facility, and there aren’t any others close. We were made so many promises (oh, you’re insurance will cover it-not!). It’s just sad, because it really did work.

I’ve been on bio-identical hormones for 4 years now. They are great.

Regarding cost. my doc doubles the strength of my perscription for the troche form and instead of taking two a day, am and pm, I take one which I split in half and take am and pm. My cost is $30 a month.

Lab work is about $250 a year.

I would never never do an implant. 

The word these days is that cycling hormones are best, where you still get your period. I haven’t tried it but Im thinking about it.

BTW, not enough is being said about BHRT for men! They really need it too!

Did Oprah also get bioidentical hormones in phoenix? I heard a rumor that she went to a couple of places.

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