Bioidentical Hormones: What You Need To Know

You may have heard of bioidentical hormone therapy to control menopausal symptoms. But what exactly is it and should you give it a try?

As a woman going through the menopause, you may wish to explore the different options for controlling your symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes and mood swings.

In recent years, so-called ‘natural’ or bioidentical hormones have gained popularity as a ‘natural’ and safe alternative to standard hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control hormonal imbalances.

Bioidentical hormones have been marketed as gentler on the body and some well-known celebrities swear by their effectiveness in relieving their menopausal symptoms.

But the information on them can be very confusing and misleading. It is advisable, for example, to take regulated bioidentical HRT (known as rBHRT) rather than unregulated compounded bioidentical HRT (cBHRT), which is made up ‘to order’ in a compounding pharmacy or clinic.

So, what is the truth about bioidentical hormones and should you try them? Are they a ‘natural’ and safe alternative to standard HRT or a potentially risky menopause treatment?

Bioidentical hormones and what they are made of

All bioidentical hormones are precise duplicates of certain hormones as they are produced in the human body. They are plant-based, derived from soy and yam, and have the same chemical and molecular structure as hormones in the body. They are not derived from mares’ urine, unlike some older forms of HRT.

‘Natural’ does not mean safe

Although bioidentical hormones are made from plant extracts, they are still processed in a laboratory and designed to change the body’s mechanisms in some way to relieve menopausal symptoms just like standard HRT. Regardless of which type of HRT you choose to take, women should be made aware of the slightly increased risk of breast cancer – one extra case per 1,000 women per year – with long-term HRT use.

Difference between regulated and unregulated HRT

Although rBHRT preparations are made from natural sources, they are closely regulated and stringently tested for safety and long-term side effects.

As well as standard synthetic HRT, rBHRT is regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which ensures that medicines have reached certain standards of safety, quality and effectiveness, and the medicines are guaranteed to be the same strength in each batch. Pharmaceutical companies are also required to include information regarding their medicines on safety and possible long-term side effects, which is not the case with unregulated cBHRT.

The unregulated form of bioidentical hormones can be prescribed by a clinician who has not had recognised menopause training. They are made up by compounding pharmacies which means the pharmacist will mix and make up a dosage based on your individual prescription.

The problem with this is that preparations are not given in standardised batches and they can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, so you may not be getting a consistent dose.

Respected medical bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises the NHS on which medicines to use, the MHRA and the British Menopause Society do not recommend the use of unregulated bioidentical hormones.

Where to get advice

To make sure you are getting the best form of HRT for you, it is important that you seek the advice of a qualified health professional who can advise you on the treatments that have been thoroughly researched for safety and effectiveness.

The team at Hormone Health only use regulated and licensed medicines following NICE and British Menopause Society guidelines, using plant-based hormones rather than the synthetic hormones used in traditional HRT.

The difference between HRT prescribed by Hormone Health and HRT prescribed by compounding pharmacies

At Hormone Health, we only use regulated bioidentical HRT. The HRT prescribed by compounding pharmacies is unregulated and not recommended by NICE or the British Menopause Society.

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