Natural vs. Synthetic Hormones for Women: The Bioidentical Factor
Over the years, hormone replacement therapy has evolved. You’ve probably heard talk of synthetic hormones, natural hormones, bioidentical hormones, and similar phrases.
All of this terminology can be confusing for many women who are seeking (sometimes desperately seeking) to reduce the symptoms of PMS, menopause, and aging. Even some doctors can get confused by the differences between the terms natural (generally referring to bioidentical) versus synthetic (generally referring to non-bioidentical) hormones. Chicago's Ageology physicians are here to clarify and clear up misconceptions surrounding these terms.
Natural hormones: A natural hormone refers to a hormone that is found in nature. Some hormones found in nature are identical to their human counterparts, like pig thyroid (Armour). Other hormones found in nature are not the same to their human counterparts, like horse estrogens (Premarin). Your body produces a whole host of natural hormones. Estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, and cortisol are but a few of these natural hormones. When talking about natural hormone replacement we are referring to the hormones that are natural to the human body.
Synthetic hormones: This is often a confusing term because “synthetic” suggests that the hormones are produced in a lab. Natural hormones are also produced in a lab from wild Mexican yams, yet they are identical to the hormones that are produced by the human body. Synthetic (non-bioidentical) hormones is a term used to describe hormones that are produced in a lab and are not identical to the human hormones. Synthetic hormones act in different ways on the body’s hormone receptors. This difference can lead to some positive but many potentially dangerous negative affects. Indeed, synthetic hormones have distinctly different, potentially opposite physiological effects as compared to bioidentical hormones.
Bioidentical hormones: Bioidentical hormones refer to the hormones that are exact copies of human hormones as opposed to hormones that are close but not exact copies of the human hormones. As such, when dosed appropriately, bioidentical hormones have a beneficial effect on the body with minimal risks and side effects. Bioidentical hormones are often referred to as “natural hormones,” despite the fact that they are indeed synthesized. On the contrary, estrogens from a natural source, such as a horse, are not considered bioidentical because horse estrogens have many components foreign to the human body. Supplements like those from wild yams and soy do not work the same way as bioidentical hormone therapy because they are plant hormones and not exact copies of the human hormones.
If you are in doubt as to whether a particular product offered to you by prescription is natural, check the label.
Think about it this way: Hormone imbalances undermine your health. If your body produces too much of any given hormone, there is excess and that excess causes undesirable effects on the body. If your body does not produce enough of any given hormone, that deficiency leads to the body not functioning as it should. The best answer is when your hormone decline, replace with bioidentical hormones. Chicago's Ageology anti-aging physicians often suggest “physiologically dosed bioidentical hormones,” as the best option for treating hormone deficiencies and optimizing your health.
Now that we have a clear understanding of natural, synthetic and bioidentical hormones, let’s explore the difference between compounded and commercial hormones.
Commercial hormones: Commercial hormones are preparations made by pharmaceutical companies in mass production and generally found at your local pharmacy. Commercial hormone preparations are produced in a limited number of standard dosages. In other words, there are limited doses available to use, and the doses cannot be individualized.
Although most commercially made hormones are not bioidentical, some are in fact bioidentical. There are pros and cons to using these commercially made bioidentical preparations. The benefit is that there is no potential variation between the products. The downside is that commercially made hormones often use non-bioidentical hormones and the dose cannot be individualized when needed.
Compounded hormones: Compounded hormone preparations are made to order. There is generally no standard dosage and each order is made to order. Here’s how it works: A compounding pharmacy receives a prescription from a doctor specifying which hormone, how much, and in what manner the hormone replacement therapy is to be delivered, such as by pill, cream, or injection.
The compounding pharmacy’s techniques may vary. That’s why it’s important to research compounding pharmacies and choose wisely. When working with Ageology certified anti-aging physicians, patients can be assured only the most reputable compounding pharmacies with the highest credentials are used.
Factors to explore include where the hormone powder is manufactured, how is it prepared, and what quality controls are in place. The benefit of compounded hormones is that the preparation can be customized to exacting detail based on the physician’s assessment of the patient’s need--and only bioidentical hormones are used. The downside is that variations can occur in manufacturing between pharmacies as well as at different time intervals.
Choosing the Best Menopause Hormone Therapy
Patients report greater satisfaction with bioidentical hormone therapy than with therapies that contain synthetic hormones. Studies show that natural hormone therapy more effectively alleviates symptoms associated with menopause through multi-hormone modalities.
In her book Breakthrough, Suzanne Somers writes, “I praise the day I found bioidenticals. Before that, I was a mess and couldn’t get rid of the menopasue symptoms. I couldn’t sleep. I woke up every 15 minutes sweating like a sauna, I completely lost my libido, was depressed from not sleeping, was gaining weight for no reason, had body itches that were driving me crazy, felt pissed off most of the time and didn’t know why.”