Originally published March 10 2009
Women Suffer Needlessly from Confusion about Hormones
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Many women are so confused and frightened about hormone replacement that they have decided to forget about it. This reaction is not surprising because almost daily there is a new scare headline blaring at them about how hormone replacement causes cancer or even brain shrinkage. Women who were recently told they could regain their lost sexuality by using hormones are now being warned against it. All this confusion is a shame. As a result of it, women are losing out on feeling their best and getting the most from their lives.
When it comes to hormones, names mean very little
To understand hormone replacement requires the patience to look beyond the name. This is because the hormones produced naturally by the body, the hormone drug products made by pharmaceutical companies, and the bioidentical hormones offered by physicians who specialize in anti-aging medicine, are all referred to simply as hormones. When the headlines blare, there is little or no effort made to inform women about what type of hormones are being discussed. To add to this confusion, the names of the hormones most often replaced, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, have become generic terms. These terms are used freely and without regulation to describe the natural hormones produced by the body, hormone drug products, and bioidentical hormones.
To further confuse matters, all hormone replacement therapy, whether it involves hormone drug products or bioidentical hormones is referred to as HRT in most publications. Few physicians or journalists bother to make the distinction as to whether they are talking about hormone drug products or bioidentical hormones. Many may not even be aware of this distinction. The rare journalist willing to distinguish will refer to information regarding bioidentical hormone replacement as bHRT.
There are three kinds of hormones replacement therapies
Hormone drugs should really be referred to as hormone substitution drugs. While they are able to mimic some of the same effects as the body's natural hormones they are unable to confer their full range of benefits. With the exception of conjugated estrogen, hormone drug products are not naturally occurring in nature, and as a result the body's immune system mounts an attack on them. This action compromises the immune system's ability to do the job it was meant to do, and may be one reason cancer is associated with hormone replacement drugs.
The most often prescribed form of the estrogen hormone drug is advertised as a natural product, and technically it is. It is derived from naturally occurring horse urine. But it does not have the same molecular structure as the estrogen naturally made by the human female. There are side effects associated with its use that include endometrial cancer, stoke, and deep vein thrombosis. This product should not be referred to in literature as estrogen, but should be termed conjugated equine estrogen or at least conjugated estrogen.
When faced with a patient exhibiting a broad range of symptoms indicating hormone deficiency, some physicians will prescribe conjugated equine estrogen alone. Taking any kind of estrogen alone, without assuring there are adequate amounts of progesterone and testosterone present, is very dangerous because it creates a state of hormonal imbalance in the body that has been associated with huge increases in risk for breast cancer.
A physician who knows conjugated estrogen must be balanced may also prescribe what is generically called progesterone, but is in reality a progestin. Progestins are not progesterone, no matter what the pharmaceutical brochures say. They are synthetic replicas of progesterone with low compatibility in the human body. Progestins are associated with a horrible range of side effects and are the most dangerous of the hormone replacement drugs.
Because hormone drugs alter reality by creating substances that are unnatural in the body, the liver must detoxify them. Daily doses of toxic products over a period of time can result the liver being compromised to the point where it is unable to perform its duty of keeping the body detoxified. When that happens, hormone drugs and their metabolites recirculate in the body and wreck havoc. The wisdom of the body recognizes unnatural compounds and develops resistance to them so that hormone drugs lose any positive effect in the body after a few years.
The conjugated estrogen plus progestin sub-study of the famous Women's Health Initiative Study reported highly elevated risks of myocardial infarction, stroke, invasive breast cancer, pulmonary emboli, deep vein thrombosis, and dementia from this combination. It is because of results such as these that it is recommended that women be given hormone drug products for the shortest period of time possible.
In the fully functioning female body, estrogen levels rise in the absence of progesterone for the first two weeks in of the cycle. Then estrogen levels taper off and progesterone kicks in to become the dominant hormone of the second two weeks in the cycle. When conjugated estrogen is prescribed with progestins, the health benefits that result from the natural rhythms of the body are lost. Since the prescribed pill contains both compound, a woman receives a constant dose of progestins throughout the whole month.
The hormone drug product that mimics some of the benefits of testosterone is often referred to as simply testosterone. In reality most hormone drug products that claim to be testosterone are actually methyltestosterone, an unnatural, synthetic creation. Methyltestosterone has been implicated in breast and liver cancers.
Following the one-size-fits all approach of hormone drug therapy, methyltestosterone is included in the same pill as conjugated estrogen. There is no way to adjust the dose to match it to the individual needs of the woman. As a result, most of the side effects of methyltestosterone reflect that the dose is too high or is being inappropriately converted into other hormones in the body. These include acne, high blood pressure, excessive and coarse facial and body hair, deepening voice, polycystic ovary syndrome, weight gain, and unstable blood sugar levels.
Hormone drug products are usually chosen to be prescribed by traditional doctors. Since they get most of their product information from drug companies, they were sold on hormone drugs as the solution for their patients' complaining of symptoms that reflect declining hormone levels. Following the release of the Women's Health Initiative, many women refused to continue taking hormone drugs and completely discontinued all hormone therapy. As pharmaceutical companies began to feel the pinch, they made the shift away from producing hormone drugs toward production of bioidentical hormones, although many hormone drugs are still widely available and the first choice of many doctors who have yet to learn about bioidenticals.
Natural hormone therapy is a term frequently used incorrectly to refer to bioidentical hormone therapy. Natural hormone therapy, which should be designated as nHRT, actually uses molecules that have some effects similar to those of the body's own hormones, but do not have the exact same molecular structure as the hormones made by the body. These are naturally occurring substances, not drugs. Phytoestrogens are hormones naturally found in plants and fall into this category.
Natural hormone replacement products are widely available without a prescription. Some of the most well known are lignans, found in walnuts and other kinds of nuts, and flax seeds and flax oil. There are also isoflavones, such as the controversial genistein and diadzien, both found in soybeans. Red clover is well known for its high phytoestrogen content, as is vitex and black cohosh. There are many phytoestrogen preparations on the market that offer several of these compounds in one capsule.
Women use natural hormone therapy to help see themselves through the worst symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats. For some women, these products are effective and offer some relief of symptoms. However, because these hormones are very weak compared to the natural hormones produced by the human female, they are not particularly effective for many women. They do offer some protection from breast cancer and osteoporosis, but they are unable to provide the full range of health benefits that would come from being able to restore the body's own natural hormones.
Bioidentical hormone therapy, which should be distinguished by the letters bHRT, uses hormones manufactured from soy or yam oils. Their molecular structure is identical to hormones made by the human female. Anyone looking at them under a microscope would not be able to tell the difference. The term bioidentical is not a marketing term, but a descriptive term, describing the difference between bioidentical hormones and all others not produced by the body.
Bioidentical hormones have been used for thousands of years. The first record of their use goes back to ancient China, where the aging female nobility routinely ingested dried young women's urine to counteract problems associated with menopause. The urine of young women contains the metabolic waste products of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. There are many references throughout history to young women's urine being used to help older women overcome the problems of aging.
Bioidentical estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have a right to be called by those names because that is what they are. They are identical to the estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone found in the female body. Bioidentical estradiol (the dominant estrogen found in women), progesterone, and testosterone are FDA approved. Estradiol and testosterone are available only by prescription. Progesterone is available over the counter in a physiologic dose, a dose that replicates the levels normally found in the healthy young female.
Bioidentical hormones are commercially mass produced and are available at local pharmacies in tablet, patch, capsule and gel form. Examples include the Vivelle patch, Climara, Estraderm, Estrace, Prometrium, and Androgel. Being mass produced, these products are standardized to specific doses, making them problematic for many women and physicians. To circumvent this problem, compounding pharmacies make bioidentical hormone products to fit the exact dose prescribed by a doctor who specializes in hormone replacement or anti-aging medicine. Compounding pharmacies dispense hormones in gels, creams, capsules, pellets, and as sublinguals.
The best way to get a prescription for bioidentical hormones is to ask your regular doctor to give you one. If he does not know about them or ties to prescribe hormones drugs, try to educate him. Many doctors are receptive to bioidenticals and just need their consciousness raised. If that does not work, find a doctor who specializes in hormone replacement or anti-aging medicine.
Bioidentical hormones have been shown repeatedly not only to be safe, but to be protective of health. When levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are restored to what they were when a woman was at her hormonal prime, bioidentical hormones have been shown to protect against breast cancer, heart attack, stoke, and cognitive impairment. Because bioidenticals are identical in molecular structure to the hormones produced by the body, the body accepts them as such. There is no immune response or development of resistance. When bioidenticals are prescribed in physiologic doses, there are usually no side effects. If side effects develop, it is an indication that dosages need to be adjusted.
Those troubling studies involved the use of hormone drug therapy
The study showing hormone therapy shrinks the brain used data collected as part of the Women's Health Initiative Study. Data collection was completed before the startling results about the dangers of hormone drugs were made public. The women in the study were taking conjugated equine estrogen, the estrogen drug made from horse urine that is in no way identical to the estrogen made by the female body. Some of the participants were taking conjugated equine estrogen alone, and some were taking a combination drug that contained the equine estrogen and a synthetic progestin drug.
What about the study warning against use of the testosterone patch to boost female libido? Given the success of Viagra for men, it is not surprising that drug companies are falling over each other trying to produce a female equivalent. But the truth is that Intrinsa is just a fancy delivery system for a synthetic methyltestosterone hormone drug.
Women produce just one-tenth the testosterone produced by men, but that little bit is critical to libido and to overall health. Symptoms of declining testosterone levels in women are low sex drive, depression, weakness, fatigue, low energy, and panic attacks. If a woman suspects her libido is low, testosterone may not be the only hormone that needs to be replaced. Estrogen and progesterone levels must be assessed and replaced if they are inadequate. Bringing each of these hormones up to optimal levels with bioidentical hormone replacement gives a real boost to sagging libido while providing other health benefits to the body.
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About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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