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Bioidentical Hormones are not “natural”

Suzanne Somers just will not quit. She created the whole scenario of bioidentical hormones for menopausal women and now she is even pushing them for pre-menopausal women. She may not have any medical background but she is one amazing business woman who knows how to rake in millions of dollars from the sale of her books and her public appearances. Unfortunately she really confuses the issue of menopause especially in the area of medications.
Although her message is more hype than science, she has inspired more women to seek out better solutions for their menopausal symptoms rather than just put up with the horrible night sweats, hot flashes and mood changes.
But these symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg. Many other problems include mood disturbance, insomnia, brain fog, memory problems, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. For all of these symptoms there are thousands of self-help books, websites and people like Suzanne Somers that muddle you in myths and pseudoscience.
Bioidentical hormones
This term is used to differentiate between hormones that are equivalent to your own body’s natural hormones and hormones that are structurally equivalent and identical to the body’s natural hormones. However this is where the debate gets muddled.
If you read Ms.Somer’s book you would be led to believe that bioidentical hormones are “natural” and “plant derived”. The truth is that these hormones may be derived from natural sources such as wild yam but are synthetically altered so that they are identical to human hormones. If you think about it, a human hormone is most likely to be different from a plant hormone or even some animal hormones.
Adding to the confusion is the false belief that bioidenticals are special creams that are not available from conventional medical doctors. In truth there are numerous pharmaceutical bioidentical hormones approved by Health Canada and only legally available by prescription.
A hormone that is “natural” is not necessarily bioidentical. For many years the most commonly prescribed hormone for menopause was the estrogen waste found in the urine of pregnant horses that went by the name of Premarin. This drug combined with a synthetic form of progesterone known as Provera were the main drugs that were used to treat menopausal symptoms.
This regimen came to an abrupt end when in 2003 the landmark Woman’s Health Initiative study (WHI) showed that users of this approach had a 24 per cent increase in the risk of acquiring breast cancer and heart disease and a 30 per cent increase risk of having a stroke.
Natural hormones such as those found in horses and progestin which is found in plants have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 48 per cent, but not so with bioidentical hormones. So in this case Suzanne Somers has stumbled into a positive.
However she leads you astray when she suggests that custom compounded creams are safer than prescription identicals. The manufacturing process is usually done in the pharmacy and it relies heavily on whether that cream with all the medication can get through your six layers of skin and into your blood stream. Not only that, the saliva test for the concentration of hormones is very inaccurate because the hormones in your blood stream are the ones to be measured, not those trace amounts in your saliva.
Dosage wise, a pill is always more accurate than a cream or a lotion unless the medication is in a time-release patch as found in many pharmaceutical preparations. If you go to a normal family physician they can send you for routine blood tests that measure your hormone levels and prescribe prescription drugs that are covered under your drug plan and it is all covered by OHIP. These specialized physicians that prescribe the creams charge large amounts of money for something they may not even be as effective as the medications prescribed by your family doctor.
Some women suffer menopausal symptoms much more than others and may want to use hormone replacement therapy. If your symptoms are not too severe, it is much wiser to stay away from the prescription drugs because your menopausal period may last about 2 years. Once you use the hormone replacement drugs it seems it will never go away.
It is always wise to try natural alternatives first such as black cohosh, chaste tree berry and combination supplements such as Menosence and Menosmart. An improvement in diet and some exercise also help. At least try the alternative supplements first and if they fail and your symptoms are driving you crazy, then go for the prescription drugs.


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