As we age, the body can experience a typical host of changes, most of which are physically noticeable: greying hair, postural and body composition changes, deepening wrinkles on the skin. Physical attributes of older age stem from cellular changes in the body associated with the aging process. Hormone depletion occurs naturally with age, which can have a direct impact on both external and internal changes, from loss of energy and libido, to lowered muscle mass and symptoms of menopause in women. Supporting the body with healthy lifestyle habits and personalized supplementation can help balance hormones by encouraging hormone production and regulation, but sometimes a more direct approach to hormone support is required for an individual to truly feel their best. Enter: Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Hormones are powerful signaling molecules the body produces and releases in order to regulate important processes such as appetite and satiety, the reproductive cycle in females, production of sperm in males, and the stress response, to name a few. A majority of the body’s main hormones are produced by the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and pancreas, as well as the testes in men and ovaries in women. The latter of these glands produce what are known as “sex hormones.” The sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are responsible for not only the development of ovaries and testes in utero, but also other characteristics of the body’s growth, development, and functionality as we age.
Estrogen and progesterone are the primary female sex hormones that help regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, support bone health, cognitive function, and cardiovascular health. Before and during menopause, women experience a significant drop in estrogen which can lower energy, increase weight gain, cause hot flashes, and disturb sleep, among other symptoms. Men also may experience “andropause,” or a decrease in testosterone as they age, which can result in symptoms of low energy, low libido, reduced muscle mass, and hair loss, to name a few. Luckily, hormone depletion is not a destiny. Science has come a long way in establishing safe and effective methods to support hormone health over time.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Medically restoring or rebalancing the body’s hormone levels can be done through synthetic HRT or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Both can be effective, but what differentiates BHRT from synthetic HRT is that BHRT relies on natural sources of hormones and are tailored directly to an individual’s needs. Another major differentiator between traditional HRT and BHRT is the source of the hormones used in treatment and how they are prepared for patient use. The term “bioidentical,” in the context of hormone replacement therapy, means the hormones used are identical in chemical structure to those produced naturally by the body. Rather than using a standard dose of synthetic forms of estrogen, progesterone/progestin, and testosterone typically extracted from sources that do not match the molecular structure of endogenous hormones found naturally in a man or woman’s body, hormones are derived from a natural source (yams or soy) that are more chemically similar to endogenous hormones.
BHRT is typically administered through pellets, creams, patches or injections. Doses and combinations are first measured for a patient’s individual needs, then, a qualified provider monitors a patient over time to reach a safe and effective balance of hormones in the body, making adjustments to hormone levels until optimal levels are reached.
Hormone Replacement Therapy Myths Debunked
Is hormone replacement therapy safe?
HRT can relieve many of the uncomfortable and life-altering symptoms of andropause in men and menopause in women, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, muscle loss, and low libido. Other benefits have been established including a lowered risk of colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. The safety of HRT depends fully on the quality of hormones administered and the availability of expert oversight from a highly qualified medical provider. Like any medical procedure, an HRT regimen must be closely monitored by a medical provider using specialized testing and follow-up protocols to ensure a patient is benefitting fully from the therapy. The benefits of a closely supervised BHRT regimen can far outweigh the risks when it comes to lowering disease risk and cultivating a better quality of life for a patient.
Does hormone replacement therapy make you gain weight?
Typically, hormones are thought to the be main drivers of weight gain, which can understandably breed concern when it comes to HRT. However, hormones themselves do not “cause” weight gain, rather, hormone depletion or imbalances are often a key driver of weight loss resistance or gradual weight gain. For instance, in women, both high levels and low levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain. In men, often a drop of testosterone levels can result in loss of muscle mass and fat loss resistance. Following a BHRT protocol designed specifically based on your hormone levels, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, can help balance hormones for optimal body composition over time.
Does hormone replacement therapy cause cancer?
HRT in any form does not cause cancer cells to originate, but it can stimulate growth if cells are present. Properly dosed and balanced hormones, combined with in-depth practitioner knowledge of detoxification and methylation pathways, is key to optimal health and mitigation of risk. If you have questions about your personal risk versus your benefit analysis, our providers would be happy to discuss with you.
BHRT can be extremely effective in alleviating symptoms of hormone depletion and imbalance that occur naturally with age. It is important to always consult a provider who is trained at the highest level in conventional, functional, and integrative medical disciplines who can oversee a safe protocol based on your unique body and health needs.
To learn more about how BHRT can benefit you, schedule a time to meet with our providers at no cost to you.