Needless to say, the profit motive is alive and well in the pharmaceutical business. Marketing, however, seems to be pushing aside science and common sense when it comes to hormone replacement therapy. Granted, the industry has gifted us with an array of HRT products to choose from, but research has long shown how flawed and risky these drugs can be.1 The synthetic hormone formulas sold by pharmaceutical companies do not match human hormones. They were created this way intentionally for the purposes of patentability and profit. The health risks, though, are very real and well documented.2 That’s why the FDA requires label warnings for these mass-produced synthetic hormone products.
The Basics of Human Physiology Versus Non-Identical Hormones
The human body remains a vast micro-universe that scientists are still discovering. The extreme complexity of its internal processes and interactions is generated by literally trillions of cells at work together. These tiny power houses systematically collaborate throughout the body in order to maintain a harmonious, balanced environment. In this way, cells receive what they need to survive and the body can work as it is intended.
These precisely coordinated cellular efforts are disrupted when the production of key hormones, such as testosterone and estradiol, is disturbed as it is in perimenopause, menopause and andropause. It takes only a very small fluctuation in hormone levels to upset internal harmony and create a cascade of negative effects. That’s when the symptoms of a body out of sync appear. Hot flashes, migraines, mood swings, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, lack of motivation, and difficulty concentrating are just some of the signs that hormones are out of balance.
From a physiologic perspective, it’s unsound science to use synthetic hormones to address a body out of balance. These non-identical hormone drugs are not a perfect fit for hormone receptor cells and do not support hormonal balance. They may tackle a symptom or two, but at what cost? The risk of serious side effects and health consequences? This is far too great a chance to take.
What about methods that use bioidentical hormones? Are they a healthier choice? What if only a single hormone is supplemented? Is this a beneficial form of HRT?
Beneficial Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bioidentical hormones that are properly administered are the healthiest choice for HRT. They are a perfect match for human hormones; they can work with the body on a cellular level and positively interact with other human hormones. Studies have shown that bioidenticals perform the same tasks as human hormones and support a harmonious internal environment.3
The key to beneficial bioidentical HRT lies within the science of human physiology. The body needs a method that 1) delivers biologically identical hormones the same way the body does—directly into the blood stream around the clock, and 2) delivers physiologic levels of key hormones in proper ratios to one another. Too much or too little of any hormone will interfere with normal functioning. For instance, too much estrogen in women can cause bloating, breast tenderness, hair loss, sleep problems, and dangerous health issues. Too little testosterone in a man can produce an imbalance between the vital testosterone/estradiol ratio, which increases the risk of prostate cancer,4 can cause sexual dysfunction and enlarged breasts.
Why Replacing Just a Single Hormone Is a Bad Idea
Hormones collaborate and work together. Given the way the body works when it’s functioning normally, it makes absolutely no sense to treat hormone deficiency with just a single hormone. This will never achieve the hormonal balance needed to support good health and well-being. Physicians who do that do not understand the importance of hormonal balance. In fact, simply replacing a woman’s estradiol could cause estrogen dominance, which can produce the moderate to severe symptoms listed above. Too much estrogen has also been associated with autoimmune disorders, breast and uterine cancers, increased blood clotting and is linked to hastening the aging process. For men, it is vital to create a balance between testosterone and estradiol levels in order to achieve a physiologic hormone replacement outcome. Giving a man testosterone alone can allow estrogen levels to get out of control. Common symptoms of high estrogen include impotence, fatigue, bloating, depression and brain fog.
1Greendale G, Reboussin B, Hogan P. Symptom relief and side effects of postmenopausal hormones: results from the Postmenopausal Estrogen/Progestin Interventions Trial. Obstet Gynecol 1998;92:982-88.
2 Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. Risk and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women. Principal results from the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002;288:321-33.
3 Moskowitz D. A comprehensive review of the safety and efficacy of bioidentical hormones for the management of menopause and related health risks. Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):208-23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17217322/
4 Nelles JL, Wen-Yang Hu, Prins GS, Estrogen action and prostate cancer. Expert Rev Endocrinol Metab. 2011 May; 6(3): 437–451.