You feel as if something is off. You know you’re getting older but you just don’t feel like yourself anymore. You experience many of the following on the regular:
Hot flashes in the day
Skin changes – acne, sagging etc.
Dryness…where there shouldn’t be dryness
Maybe these issues arose around menopause, or maybe they didn’t. Maybe your doctor told you you have PCOS (a very common condition in women) and you don’t know what to do to get your cycle back on track.
You may have started to look around on the internet (there’s a lot of information out there, after all) and concluded that your hormones may be out of balance. You might be right, but you’re not sure. That Suzanne Somers lady said she got her life back with bio-identical hormones. Maybe they’re the solution to the problem, you might think. But you have questions and concerns, and you sure as heck want to start feeling better, or at least like yourself, and are wondering if bio-identical hormones might be a helpful part of your treatment plan.
I get these complaints and concerns all the time in my clinic. My goal in this post is to clear up some of the confusion around bio-identical hormones and help you figure out if they might be a worthwhile addition to your treatment plan.
What are bio-identical hormones?
Bio-identical hormones are compounds that are very chemically similar to our own hormones – they are commonly made from the Wild Yam plant. Whereas conventional hormones are made from the urine of pregnant horses and differ fundamentally from our own hormones, bio-identical hormones fit like a key into a lock in our bodies and cannot be distinguished from our own hormones and are used by our bodies appropriately. They can be tested and tracked more accurately than conventional hormones.
Why would I need bio-identical hormones?
As a naturopathic doctor it’s my goal to do the least possible to help your body feel better, and so bio-identical hormones are not for everyone. However, if your menopause symptoms are running your life and you’ve tried some herbal-based or other more natural solutions, you may benefit from more intensive help. Also, if you’ve gone into early menopause, bio-identical hormones are indicated until your early 50s when you would typically reach menopause.
Are bio-identical hormones safe?
You may have heard that research studies on conventional hormone replacement therapy were stopped early due to increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, blood clots, and heart disease. Bio-identical hormones do not carry the same risks. In fact, with the right balance, bio-identical hormones can actually reduce breast cancer risk. This fact does not mean that any hormones therapy, natural or not, should be used without careful supervision and regular follow-ups. Health Canada makes bio-identical hormones prescription-only for a reason: they need to be monitored by a licensed health care provider.
Do I need to test before bio-identical hormone therapy?
Absolutely! Testing is far superior to guessing. Sometimes, too much estrogen can look very similar to too little progesterone, and there are many other hormones at play as well. I recommend to my patients to get a comprehensive urine steroid hormone profile which shows male and female sex hormones, stress hormones, and all of the little metabolites in between. I have never had a patient say that they regretted spending the money on such a complete test. When we know exactly what the hormone situation is, we can tailor the dosage faster and track progress more effectively.
How long will I need bio-identical hormones?
This one’s a little controversial. Some experts believe that you can, and should, be on bioidentical hormones indefinitely, and if that treatment plan is in line with your goals, that’s fine. The hormones are serving their purpose when they are keeping symptoms at bay. However, as a naturopath my job is to always be asking why you need the hormones in the first place. If you’ve been on bio-identical hormones for a while and you want to stop using them (as a few women do in my practice), then we look at the lifestyle factors that can contribute to hormone imbalances: diet, stress, exercise…you know the drill. For accountability and guidance, all I ask is that you enlist an expert to help you make some new healthy, hormone-friendly habits.
Will my doctor know about this therapy?
With few exceptions, probably not. Medical doctors are not trained in bio-identical hormone replacement, and many have admitted such to their patients when they ask for it. Testing is typically not done before conventional hormone replacement therapy, which makes it difficult to customize the ratios and formulation for a patient. When a naturopath or integrative medical doctor prescribes bio-identical hormones, they tailor the dosage to suit your individual needs and test results to help minimize adverse effects. Depending on where you live, not all naturopathic doctors can prescribe bio-identical hormones, so if you’re looking for a naturopath, be sure they have the necessary prescribing rights.
If your hormones are running your life (and they shouldn’t be) and you’ve felt as if you’ve tried everything, perhaps it’s time to bring out the bigger artillery. Bio-identical hormones can help restore that all-important hormonal axis and bring things back into balance. Talk to a naturopathic doctor or bio-identical friendly medical doctor about your hormones, and if you’re in the Greater Toronto area you could stop by to see me and we’ll chat about options to get you back to hormone happiness.