As the body’s main mechanism for cell communication, hormones control numerous processes, from growth and development to appetite and the immune system. Hormone deficiencies or imbalances, therefore, may lead to significant downstream effects on major systems of the body. A decline in hormones is most often correlated with age but can be brought on by other lifestyle or medical factors. Two methods of treatment to restore or rebalance the body’s hormone levels is to replace them, either through synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Both are considered effective, however, like many concepts in integrative and functional medicine, BHRT provides a method of restoring health that relies on the body’s natural processes to replace and rebalance depleted hormones.
In women, 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, among other symptoms. Men also may experience a decrease in testosterone as they age, signaling what is referred to as “andropause.” Without adequate levels of testosterone, men may experience symptoms of low energy or chronic fatigue, low libido, reduced muscle mass, hair loss, and other disturbances in their health and vitality. Many people seeking optimal health by restoring hormone levels consult with a qualified provider about safe and effective replacement therapies.
During a course of traditional HRT for women, synthetic estrogen and progesterone/progestin are used to replace what the female body is unable to produce on its own. These compounds are extracted from the urine of pregnant mares and, obviously, do not match the molecular structure of endogenous hormones found naturally in a woman’s body. In men, a similar process occurs with by supplementing the body with synthetic testosterone typically derived from chemicals and manufactured in a lab setting. HRT may be administered through pills, creams, patches or injections.
How BHRT is Different
Balancing hormone levels for optimal health requires comprehensive treatment options and a personalized plan. The major differentiators between traditional HRT and BHRT are 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. Typically, in BHRT, a compounding pharmacist derives hormones from a natural source of plant estrogens (yams or soy) to produce essential hormones including oestrone E1, oestradiol E2, oestriol E3, progesterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), testosterone, and levothyroxine. Doses and combinations can be specifically measured for a patient’s individual needs. Then, a qualified provider trained in BHRT monitors a patient over time to reach a safe and effective balance of hormones in the body, making adjustments to hormone combinations, if needed. Traditional HRT usually consists of standard doses of synthetic hormones in various, predetermined combinations that are pre-packaged by a pharmacist, leaving room for error since individual needs may vary widely. Methods of administering BHRT are similar to HRT, including injections, pills and creams, suppositories, patches, and implanted pellets.
Like any treatment, BHRT may have temporary side effects as the body adjusts to a regimen. These can include weight gain, tiredness, blurred vision, acne, and mood swings. However, in general, there are overall fewer side effects in BHRT treatment provided by a qualified provider using robust lab testing than in traditional HRT protocols. In women and men, results of successful BHRT regimen over time may leave patients with increased energy, reduced body fat, a higher libido, more focus, and an improved mood. Many patients recall “feeling like themselves again,” as their natural hormone levels are restored to their body’s optimal level of functioning.
BHRT is not for everyone, but it can bring tremendous results to overall health and quality of life. If you are interested in learning more about BHRT and your health, schedule a meet and greet with an Essential Health provider.