Hormone-replacement therapy is a treatment for women going through menopause. Symptoms of menopause can vary from moderate to severe, and include a slowed metabolism, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, depression, memory loss, mood swings, weight gain and low libido. One way to treat the symptoms of menopause is to replace the hormones that a woman's body is no longer producing. Traditional hormone-replacement therapy uses synthetic hormones to treat the symptoms of menopause. Bioidentical-hormone-replacement therapy (BHRT) is an alternative treatment that uses hormones derived from plants.
Bioidentical hormones have a molecular structure that is identical to the hormones made by a woman's body. They are created in a laboratory from a plant chemical that comes from yams and soy. Some bioidentical hormones are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); others are compounded (custom-made) and, as such, are not regulated by the FDA.
Benefits of Bioidentical-Hormone-Replacement Therapy
Bioidentical hormones can be custom-made for the individual patient. They are available in many different forms, including pills, injections, suppositories and creams. In addition to menopause, BHRT can be used to treat perimenopause and severe premenstrual syndrome.
Candidates for Bioidentical-Hormone-Replacement Therapy
Women who are suffering from the symptoms of menopause may be candidates for bioidentical-hormone-replacement therapy. Many menopausal women using synthetic-hormone replacement who have not experienced significant symptom relief might consider switching to bioidentical hormones. Certain factors, such as preexisting medical conditions, determine whether or not bioidentical hormones are a viable alternative.
Risks and Complications of Bioidentical-Hormone-Replacement Therapy
Because bioidentical hormones have not been extensively studied over time, their long-term effects are unknown. In addition, bioidentical-hormone replacement therapy as a whole has not been approved by the FDA, although some individual bioidentical hormones have been. Risks and possible side effects associated with traditional synthetic-hormone-replacement therapy, however, include an increased risk of certain cancers, as well as the following:
- Breast pain
- Mood swings
A woman should discuss all aspects, including the risks, of bioidentical-hormone-replacement therapy with her doctor before deciding if it is an appropriate treatment. Additional research is needed to fully understand its risks and benefits.