Journalist Harriet Hall posted the following in her blog, Science-Based Medicine:
“Advocates claim that bioidenticals are safer than pharmaceuticals, but since they are essentially the same compounds, there is every reason to think they would have the same side effects.”
My apologies, Ms. Hall, but to write that in a blog called “Science-Based Medicine” is a little…well…unscientific.
Bioidenticals are not essentially the same compounds as pharmaceuticals, with the exception, of course, of the pharmaceuticals that are actually bioidentical. For example: Prometrium is bioidentical progesterone in pill form, and several forms of estrogen are available as patches.
And, Ms. Hall, there is not every reason to think they would have the same side effects. In fact, they don’t!
At the molecular level, a progestin (a progesterone-like synthetic compound that binds to receptors designed for the real thing) looks nothing like the hormone actually produced by a woman’s ovaries. The same goes for Premarin, which is derived from horse urine and has a molecular structure quite different from natural estrogens.
In this blog post, we’re going to look at the difference between progesterone (the real thing, made in the ovaries and available as bioidentical progesterone pills or creams) and progestins (the versions used in conventional hormone therapy). This information is drawn from scientific research and development that is every ounce as rigorous as what is applied to the study of pharmaceuticals.
Critics like Ms. Hall call bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) untested and unproven. She and others caution that it is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Any online search for information about BHT yields multiple references to “quackery.”
Kent Holtorf, M.D., a physician practicing in Torrance, California, has tried to clarify this debate by researching and writing scholarly articles on the topic of BHT. His papers have been published in mainstream medical journals like Postgraduate Medicine and Primary Care. For one paper, Dr. Holtorf searched the entire medical database for all research papers written about BHT in the last few decades. He found nearly 200 papers to include in his overview.
Some of Dr. Holtorf’s papers looked at the clinical effectiveness of BHT (does it help relieve symptoms?); some looked at BHT’s direct effect on breast tissue (because one concern about all HT is the potential for raising breast cancer risk); and still others looked at risks of developing breast cancer and cardiovascular disease with BHT. Many of these studies compared the risks and benefits of conventional hormone therapy (Premarin plus progestin, the type now believed to confer unacceptable risk of heart attack and breast cancer) with those of BHT.
The results of that search, along with Dr. Holtorf’s practical, intelligent analysis of those studies, give a comprehensive and accurate look at what is known today about BHT’s risks and benefits. In my next blog post, I’ll share a few of Dr. Holtorf’s startling discoveries.
Photo credit: health.com