Hormones help control crucial processes in the body, from appetite to reproduction. With age, sex hormones typically cause the most disruption in well-being due to the natural decline of estrogen during menopause in women and testosterone in men over time (also known as andropause). These transitions can lead to symptoms like low energy, decreased libido, mood swings, hot flashes in women, and weight gain, among other symptoms. Science has progressed to the point where managing hormone imbalances or decline is possible through natural and effective approaches monitored by medical experts. This has paved the way for a new mindset around hormonal transitions in life rooted in a functional medicine approach to care: you are not destined to suffer devastating symptoms as you age.
Learning to assess your own symptoms can be the first step towards generating curiosity around how your hormones may be playing a role in changes to your health. While a medical provider with expertise in endocrinology and functional medicine can help determine whether hormone replacement therapy may be right for you, you can start to establish an awareness of symptoms to guide your decision to consider an intervention.
Some common signs that might indicate when to start hormone replacement therapy include:
- Menopausal Symptoms: In women, symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and decreased libido might indicate a decline in estrogen levels during menopause.
- Andropause Symptoms: In men, a decline in testosterone levels with age might lead to symptoms like fatigue, decreased muscle mass, reduced sex drive, and mood changes.
- Early Menopause or Premature Ovarian Failure: If women experience menopause before the age of 40, hormone replacement therapy might be considered to manage symptoms and maintain bone health.
Supporting Women through Menopause
The most significant change in hormone levels in women happens during menopause. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, when a woman’s ovaries cease producing eggs and hormone levels like estrogen and progesterone decline. Estrogen is the primary sex hormone that helps regulate menstrual cycles and support pregnancy, while also contributing to bone health, cognitive function, and cardiovascular health. Many women experience a significant drop in estrogen during menopause, which can cause low energy, weight gain, brain fog, and sleep disturbances, and other symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, fatigue, and bone density loss. While these changes are a natural part of aging, they can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life. Many women believe they are “destined” to feel the burdensome effects of menopause after reaching a certain age; however, there are natural and science-backed methods to help alleviate symptoms by supporting declining hormone levels using a functional medicine approach.
While this transition is typically a universal experience, the journey can vary greatly from woman to woman. Functional medicine, an approach to care that addresses the root causes of health issues, can be extraordinarily beneficial in helping women navigate – and possibly minimize – associated symptoms during this phase of life. One approach often used in functional medicine practices is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), a natural hormone replacement therapy approach which offers a promising avenue to support women.
Is HRT safe for Women?
Unlike synthetic hormones, bioidentical hormones are chemically identical to the hormones naturally produced by the body. BHRT aims to restore hormonal balance and alleviate menopausal symptoms by supplementing declining hormone levels. A qualified healthcare provider starts by evaluating hormonal levels, symptoms, and overall health, and then creates a personalized treatment plan.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that BHRT may help manage menopausal symptoms effectively while potentially reducing the risk of certain health issues associated with conventional HRT. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that BHRT improved both physical and emotional symptoms of menopause in a group of women studied over a year.
Supporting Men through Andropause
Supporting men with andropause (also known as “male menopause” or “late-onset hypogonadism”) using BHRT also involves evaluating hormonal levels, symptoms, and overall health. A personalized plan can be created to address imbalances in hormone levels and help alleviate associated symptoms. For instance, a healthcare provider can prescribe bioidentical testosterone replacement that can help restore testosterone levels to a more balanced state.
Functional Medicine & BHRT
When combined, functional medicine and BHRT create a powerful synergy. Functional medicine identifies underlying imbalances, such as gut health, stress levels, and nutrition, that can exacerbate menopausal or andropausal symptoms. By addressing these factors, a medical provider can help optimize the effectiveness of BHRT and support the body’s overall resilience during these transitions. This approach not only aids in symptom relief but also enhances long-term well-being.
Choosing the Right Provider
As with any medical approach, it is essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional who specializes in functional medicine and BHRT. Ideally, you should seek a healthcare provider with certifications in endocrinology, additional certifications through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a full Fellowship in Anti-Aging and Metabolic Medicine, and a commitment to continuing educational courses.
HRT is not one-size-fits-all. Your provider should review all of your options, discuss the pros and cons of HRT, and help you choose the one that best suits your lifestyle. Then, they should routinely monitor hormone levels every three months and adjust dosing as needed based on your symptoms and lab results. The goal of any appropriate HRT protocol is not to “super dose” a patient full of hormones: the body was not designed this way. Rather, everything should be in balance with one another.
Menopause and andropause are significant transitions in life that, when supported properly, can be smoother than what is conventionally communicated. Functional medicine, with its holistic and individualized approach, combined with science-backed BHRT, offers promising solutions for men and women seeking relief from symptoms. By empowering yourself with knowledge and collaborating with credentialed providers, you can make an informed decision about how to support your hormone health and embrace a new phase with confidence and peace of mind.
If you think you may be a candidate for a personalized hormone-balancing intervention, schedule a Meet & Greet with one of our providers or team members to learn more.