Last week, we focused on the issues surrounding testosterone in men, addressing the pros and cons of testosterone replacement therapy (see: Setting the Record Straight on Testosterone Replacement Therapy). This week and next, we are exploring hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women.
Often maligned in the media, hormone replacement therapy has been linked to the development of cancers, as well as patients experiencing strokes and blood clots. But before we discuss more than a half-century of controversy, we should first explain what, exactly, hormones are and what is their role within the human body.
Hormones are the Messenger
As a big part of the body’s chemical messenger system, hormones have direct control over our blood sugar levels, the amount of sleep we get, our sexual desires, and well stress responses, blood pressure, hunger, moods, and more.
Examples of such hormones include:
- Cortisol for stress and immune system regulation
- Melatonin for sleep
- Insulin and glucagon for controlling blood sugar
- Sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) that influence fertility, libido, brain function, motivation, sleep, moods, and energy
While hormones indeed act as the body’s messengers, they also feature receptors that receive those messages. And these receptors can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on their behavior and the manner in which messages are received and processed.
So, when there is a problem with a patient’s hormones, it is most important to consider both the hormones — and the hormone receptors — before instigating a treatment plan.
Hormone Imbalances are Due to Many Factors
When the body has too much or too little of a hormone — or too much or too little related to a partner hormone — the result is hormonal imbalance.
Hormones, which are secreted by glands, can go off kilter as a result of bad timing in that secretion, or excess or deficient hormone secretion.
There are other factors that can lead to hormone imbalance, including:
High levels of estrogen: The ovaries create estrogen in the female body, but estrogen is also found in the environment due to municipal, pharmaceutical, and hospital steroid estrogen waste.
Exposure to estrogen-like compounds called xenoestrogens is also common. Called endocrine disruptors, these are often found in cosmetics, personal care products, and plastics.
Aging: We all begin to experience a loss of hormones when we reach our 40s, but some of us suffer an abrupt drop while others maintain a healthy level for years or decades. For women, this is called menopause.
Genetics, diet, fitness, sexual activity, and stress: Each of these factors influences hormone levels and how the receptors respond to the presence of a hormone.
Obviously, genetics can’t be “fixed,” but a better diet, a regular fitness regimen, and controlling stress levels go a long way toward maintaining healthy hormonal levels.
Medication history: Doctors have known for a long time that taking birth control pills for many years may create an excess or deficiency of hormones and vitamins.
Surgical interventions: Hysterectomies and thyroidectomies can severely influence hormone balance.
HRT: The Good, The Bad, and the truth
Back in the 1960s, women approaching their 40s and 50s were often prescribed estrogen to curtail or lessen the effects of the hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, and night sweats associated with menopause.
Shortly thereafter, medical studies revealed that estrogen increased the risk of cancer in the uterine lining, so doctors countered that threat by adding progesterone to the equation.
Problems arose when the pharmaceutical companies decided to bypass combining bioidentical estrogen and progesterone and instead created a synthetic form of progesterone and combined it with estrogen that was also synthetic or obtained from animals.
Later on, doctors began prescribing these so-called hormone replacement therapies (HRT) to prevent a number of age-related diseases for women in the 60s and 70s.
Among those therapies was Wyeth’s Prempro, a drug that was tied to an increased risk of cancer, stroke, and blood clots in a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health called the Women’s Health Initiative.
That federal study resulted in driving doctors and their patients away from hormone replacement therapy, with prescriptions primarily written for those women suffering severe menopause symptoms.
Going Biological Instead of Synthetic
Here’s the thing about hormone replacement therapy — whether that be for men or women: The truth of the matter is that HRT is effective, and it is safe. It all comes down to addressing other underlying health issues first.
Then — and only then — is it appropriate to use bioidentical hormones, discarding any notion of synthetic hormones altogether?
Here at BioDesign Wellness Center, we test and then treat for other existing medical conditions first. And we only prescribe hormone replacement therapy for our patients who need HRT and will benefit from its use.
So, who needs it? Below is a partial list of hormonal imbalances suffered by women:
As you can guess by now, because of the integrative nature of both good and poor health, many of the above conditions can be connected to something other than hormonal imbalance, which is why we always seek the root cause of a condition before recommending treatment.
Next week we’ll look at the process of hormone replacement therapy and what that process entails. Specifically, we’ll discuss how we here at BioDesign Wellness Center go about diagnosing and resolving most or all of the issues mentioned above. Stay tuned!
Disclaimer: The information in this blog on hormone replacement therapy is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.