As we get older, our bodies begin to release fewer hormones, which can lead to a variety of unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, headaches, hot flashes, weight gain, and more. However, you may have heard about the risks of taking hormone replacements such as Prempro or Premarin, so you’re just dealing with the symptoms. Fortunately, Metabolix Wellness Center in Clearwater, FL offers bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or BHRT, which could change your mind.
Bioidentical hormones are derived from plant extracts and have been modified to be structurally indistinguishable from the hormones our own bodies make. As such, they are safer and more effective than traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which uses animal hormones that are similar, but not exact to our own. However, even with plant-based hormones, there are limits on how long you should be treated.
How Long Should You Stay On Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Despite the fact that BHRT uses plant derivatives rather than synthetic animal derivatives, the use of bioidentical hormones hasn’t been studied as extensively as traditional HRT, so the effects of using them for long-term therapy aren’t yet known. There’s some evidence that because they’re natural and identical to the hormones your own body produces, they could be appropriate for continual use. However, because the evidence for this hasn’t been established, you should only take bioidentical hormones until you achieve symptom relief.
That being said, it’s always a better idea to introduce medications to your system that are biologically identical to what your body already produces than taking medications that are foreign to your body. When we put foreign substances in our body, they produce side effects that are sometimes worse than the condition they’re treating. As such, while bioidentical hormones should not be used forever, they are a safer alternative to traditional HRT. Moreover, they’re more effective as well.
As experts in the bioidentical hormone replacement field, we recommend undergoing this therapy for a maximum of seven years; however, we also suggest that you discontinue treatment when you achieve relief from your symptoms. Unfortunately, when you stop taking hormones, your symptoms may return. However, depending on when you started therapy, by the time you’re ready to stop taking them, you may have passed the point in your life when HRT was necessary, as it often is with menopause.
How Bioidentical HRT Works
Before you begin any type of HRT, you must obtain an accurate measurement of your hormone levels. Therefore, this is the first step in understanding how bioidentical HRT works. At our clinic, you’ll receive a technologically advanced hormone test through blood, saliva, and/or urine to determine if you have a hormone balance and if we believe that bioidentical HRT will be beneficial for your needs. In some cases, we may recommend other treatments for your symptoms.
Once we determine your specific needs based on your symptoms and measured hormone levels, we will develop a custom treatment plan that includes the exact dosages your body needs. These are not mass-produced hormones that can be used in the same doses for everyone. Compounding pharmacies that produce bioidentical hormones will receive a prescription for creating the bioidentical hormones that you’ll use during treatment. No other person will have the exact same prescription as you.
After you receive your prescription in the form determined to be best for your lifestyle, you’ll begin taking your personalized doses. The deficiencies in your hormone levels will gradually disappear as the replacement hormones increase your levels to normal. Since these hormones are exact replications of the ones you already produce, your body won’t reject them and there will be fewer side effects. Over time, your body’s hormones will be restored to their optimal levels, thereby alleviating your symptoms.
Hormones That Are Replicated
Any hormone that is naturally produced by the body can be replicated in a compounding pharmacy using plant derivatives, usually from yams and soy products. The most commonly replaced hormones in BHRT are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, triiodothyronine (thyroid), thyroxine (thyroid), and melatonin. The specific hormones you will replace are dependent on a test that measures which ones are deficient. We will measure your hormone levels at your initial appointment through a blood, saliva, and/or urine test.
Perfect for Men and Women
Traditional HRT is mostly focused on helping menopausal women restore their hormone balance through progesterone and estrogen, and while there is HRT for men in the form of testosterone, it’s not considered a viable treatment for older men who are otherwise healthy. This is because the risks often outweigh the benefits. With bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, though, men of all ages are able to take advantage of hormones that are structurally identical to the testosterone your body already produces.
Symptoms in Men
Men often believe that their symptoms of a hormone imbalance are a normal part of aging, but that’s not always true. Diet, age, and lifestyle can all have an impact on hormone levels in both men and women, but men are more likely to ignore their symptoms, even if they’re younger than they thought they would be when facing these conditions. Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance in a male include the following.
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fatigue or lower energy
- Prostate inflammation
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lower sperm count
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Decreased muscle tone
- Water retention
- Breast enlargement
- Reduced strength
- Mood swings
- Adult acne
- Decreased libido
Symptoms in Women
Menopausal women are usually who people think about when they hear the term “hormone replacement,” but in reality, women of all ages can have unbalanced hormones. When younger women get symptoms of a hormone imbalance, they often attribute it to other conditions like anxiety or depression rather than what’s really causing the symptoms. In fact, studies show that premenopausal women achieve better results from BHRT than women who wait until menopause. Hormonal imbalance symptoms in a female include the following.
- Anxiety and depression
- Vaginal dryness
- Fatigue or lower energy
- Hair loss or thinning
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Facial hair growth
- Dry skin
- Weight gain (particularly around the abdomen)
- Uterine fibroids
- Hot flashes
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Decrease libido
Now that you’ve seen all the various symptoms that hormonal imbalances can cause, it’s easy to see the benefits of getting bioidentical hormones. Most of these symptoms disappear with therapy, but even those that don’t entirely go away are greatly diminished. Menopausal women report a great relief from the most vexing of symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood instability. However, the alleviation of symptoms is not the only benefit from bioidentical hormones.
Healthier Teeth and Gums
Recent studies have shown that HRT can help you get healthier teeth and gums. The loss of bone density that comes with aging can cause teeth to become loose, and as we age, our teeth also become more susceptible to disease. However, when women take hormone replacement drugs, they’re much less likely to experience periodontitis, which is the underlying cause of bone and tooth loss. The improvement in oral health is likely due to the prevention of osteoporosis through HRT.
Improved Skin Health
Certain hormones are responsible for collagen and elastin production, and as our hormone levels decrease, so does our production of these two critical substances necessary for skin health. Bioidentical HRT has been shown to increase the amount of collagen produced by the body, leading to improved skin hydration, increased skin elasticity, and thicker skin, which is naturally healthier and less susceptible to bruises and wounds. Blood flow to the skin also increases, improving its color and overall appearance.
Alleviation of Symptoms in Cancer Patients
People who have undergone treatment for cancer that affected their hormone levels have reported that Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy were able to find relief from symptoms such as migraine headaches, incontinence, insomnia, and low libido. Additionally, in a recent study, these patients experienced a recurrence rate of breast cancer that was no higher than average, suggesting that BHRT is a safe and effective treatment for these patients.
How Bioidentical HRT is Administered
There are many ways in which bioidentical HRT can be administered, including injections, creams, tablets, patches, gels, lozenges, and implanted pellets. Not every method is right for every individual, so we’ll discuss the administration technique that is best for you and your lifestyle at your consultation. Additionally, we will monitor your progress to ensure the form of hormone you’re taking is delivering the results you desire. We can always change the method of delivery at any time.
Throughout your treatment, we will continue to monitor your hormone levels through blood, saliva, and/or urine tests to ensure you are receiving the proper dosage. We will also track your progress over time and provide you with reports that show how your hormone levels have changed. At these appointments, be sure to inform us of any changes in your symptoms or if any of them return while you are getting treatment. This will allow us to adjust your therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Bioidentical HRT Be Obtained Through a General Physician?
Usually, the answer to this question is no. General physicians do not have the time to invest in becoming experts at bioidentical HRT. They are trained to provide traditional HRT and only in instances where the benefits outweigh the risks. Our specialists have undergone extensive training to fully understand bioidentical hormones and how to use them to treat a variety of symptoms. We are the best source for this treatment due to our specialized knowledge of bioidentical medicine.
Is Measuring Hormone Levels Required For Treatment?
Yes. This is the only way to know for sure if you have a hormone imbalance. At our office, we will administer a blood, saliva, and/or urine test to detect the levels of hormones in your body. Additionally, this test will identify the hormones you need to supplement, since this is not the same for everyone. This will allow us to create a customized treatment plan that is targeted to your specific needs.
How Frequent Will Monitoring Appointments Be?
It is important that we monitor your hormone levels as you undergo therapy to ensure they remain stable and are effective at treating your symptoms. We will usually schedule an appointment every three or four months to check your hormone levels, discuss any concerns you have, and to make any necessary alterations to your prescription.
Do You Combine Other Treatments with Bioidentical HRT?
Yes! Patients often use our mineral and vitamin infusions to increase the benefits of Bioidentical HRT. We have a variety of nutrient injections available, including B12, glutathione, amino acids, and lipotropic compounds. We provide nutrient injection kits that you can use at home so that you do not need to come into the office to receive them. Injections allow the nutrients to be fully absorbed rather than ending up as waste. We do require a consultation before starting at-home injections.
Does Bioidentical HRT Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer?
No. In fact, various studies have shown that there is actually a 30% decrease in the risk of breast cancer in women who start bioidentical HRT for estrogen and progesterone deficiencies when they enter menopause and continue the treatment long-term.
Does Bioidentical HRT Increase the Risk of Heart Attack?
No. There are risks associated with synthetic HRT that have been shown to increase a person’s chances of having a heart attack, but over the course of numerous studies, bioidentical hormones have not presented this risk. In fact, research indicates that bioidentical hormones may actually lower your risk of heart disease.
When Do Results Become Evident?
Each individual will experience the results of bioidentical HRT differently, which also means their time frames for symptom relief differ as well. Some symptoms may be impacted immediately, while others may improve steadily over a period of three to six months. You can expect to reach normal levels of hormones within six months of starting your regimen. Again, this time frame varies from person to person, but let us know if you’re not getting any relief from symptoms at all.
What Age Is Best To Start Treatment?
There is no set age that is a requirement to start bioidentical HRT, but you should have your hormones checked once you turn 40 if you have not already done so. If you start experiencing symptoms of a hormone imbalance before you turn 40, you should take an active approach toward your help and seek a hormone test to determine if an imbalance is behind your symptoms. This way, you can start treatment and get to feeling better immediately.
If you have not started to feel the effects of aging even after you turn 40, we recommend that you get a test anyway. This is so we have a record of what your levels are when you’re feeling good to compare with your declining levels later on. Additionally, we will be able to determine if your bioidentical HRT is working because we can monitor your levels and compare them with your baseline levels.
Does Bioidentical HRT Interfere With Other Medications?
While you should always let us know about any other medications and supplements you are taking, bioidentical HRT does not generally interfere or interact with other medications. Remember that these hormones are naturally found in your body, so other medications will not recognize them as foreign. In fact, you may even be able to decrease the medications you’re taking once you start treatment, which is just another benefit of balancing your hormones!
If Treated With Bioidentical Testosterone, Will a Woman Grow Unwanted Hair?
While this is a risk of synthetic testosterone, there is less of a chance of a woman growing unwanted hair from bioidentical testosterone.
Does Insurance Cover Bioidentical HRT?
In general, no. The lab work needed to measure your hormone levels may be covered, but you should always check with your insurance company before coming in for the initial appointment.
How Long Has Bioidentical HRT Been Around?
The practice of using bioidentical hormones to supplement hormone deficiencies is not new. They were first used to alleviate menopause symptoms in the 1930s, but when synthetic hormones proved easier to produce, they supplanted bioidentical hormones until health risks were identified with traditional HRT in the early 2000s. Bioidentical hormones have experienced a resurgence as a more natural way to replenish hormone levels.
Can Everyone Benefit From Bioidentical HRT?
Anyone with a hormone imbalance may benefit from treatment, but as with all therapies, it is not for everyone. We will take a medical history at your first appointment and determine if you have any medical conditions that could interfere with how your body responds to hormones. There are some conditions that could worsen if hormone levels are increased. If we determine you’re not a candidate for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, we will provide you with other treatment options.
Some of the conditions that may exclude you from getting bioidentical hormone treatment include unexplained vaginal bleeding (hyperplasia), blood clotting disorders, and some thyroid dysfunctions. Even these conditions may not prevent you from receiving all hormones. For example, people with blood clotting disorders should not receive estrogen, but other hormones may be acceptable. Be sure to disclose all health conditions, both prior and current, during your consultation to ensure the safety of our treatment.
Bioidentical HRT can offer you long-term relief from the myriad of symptoms related to hormone imbalances, and while you shouldn’t take them forever, they can help your body navigate the aging process with relative ease. The next step to take is to contact our experts at Metabolix Wellness Center in Clearwater, FL to schedule your initial consultation. We’ll get you tested and on your way to feeling more like yourself again!