What is traditional HRT, what are bio-identical hormones and is any of it safe for menopause?
26th Jun 2018
Helen Seymour is in peri-menopause, or at least she thinks she is. In her new weekly column, we follow her on her journey towards the menopause, learning as she does all about the big M.
I feel like Feargal Sharkey’s cousin. Because in many respects you do need a degree in Economics, Maths, Physics and Bionics, to really truly get to grips with understanding HRT.
Here is my layman’s explanation, and for any doctors reading, no I’m not going to talk about micronized progesterone. Not today. That’s for another week. Today is top-line but hopefully, it will give you a decent overview.
There are three types of HRT; traditional HRT, bio-identical HRT, and body identical HRT. Bio and body identical operate from the same principles, but body identical is professionally regulated, whereas bio-identical can be experimental. First, let’s look at traditional HRT.
Traditional HRT got a bad (and false) reputation thanks to two greatly flawed research studies; the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and the Million Women Study (MWS) that linked it to breast cancer. The fact is you have a greater chance of getting breast cancer from drinking alcohol than you do from HRT. These studies have been acknowledged as being flawed, however, they did a lot of damage. Sales of HRT fell overnight and interestingly sales of anti-depressants rose in a mirror image percentage at the same time.
Traditional HRT works and has worked very well for many women. My aunt took it well into her eighties, she had tonnes of energy, her hair and skin look great and she is still very much alive. My friend’s mother took it and she has the best head of hair I have ever seen. She also is in her eighties and still very much alive. I have friends in their fifties and sixties currently taking it, and very happy. They would not be without it.
That said, traditional HRT tends to be prescribed in a “one size fits all” manner. And as we know, different women take different dress sizes. Some women look amazing in floaty floral free-flowing dresses; others need a structured look. Traditional HRT is a “catch-all” prescription, that may or may not work for you.
Read more: Loss of confidence during menopause made me a different person
Bio-identical and body identical hormones
Bio-identical and body identical hormones are more natural. They come from plants in many cases, but more importantly, their molecular structure is identical to human hormones. Furthermore, based on a series of detailed blood tests, your prescription is tailored to meet your needs. Not all women respond well to oestrogen. Not all women work well with progesterone. Some women need testosterone. With bio and body identical (the clue is in the word IDENTICAL) the blend of hormones is tailored to suit your body’s needs.
Bio-identical and body identical hormones are also applied through the skin in gels or patches, which is a safer and more direct way for your system to absorb them. Oestrogen, when taken as an oral tablet, changes in the gut, and becomes less effective. Parts of the tablets can also end up in your liver, which is not ideal.
And yet, BUYER BEWARE. Some practitioners selling bio-identical hormones “custom compound” them, which means they mix up your tailored blend of hormones on-site in a pharmacy. While it’s not dangerous and not illegal, it’s also not regulated, and may not be effective.
Body identical hormones are essentially bio-identical hormones in that have all the same benefits, but body identical hormones are commercially produced in laboratories to medical industry standards. It is a regulated product. It has been mixed with an exact science.
So that’s an important question to ask if you’re with a bio-identical consultant. Where do these hormones come from? And are they produced in a regulated environment?
For me, having done the research, body identical is the best route to go. Please bear in mind I’m not a doctor, and all of this is just an opinion based on my own research and experience. Every woman is different. Do your research, listen to your body, and then do what is right for you.
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