Menopause : the word strikes fear into the heart of the modern woman. Visions of night sweats, hot flashes and zero sex drive fill her head as she catapults toward this inevitable fate of all things female. Resigned, she is determined to face the symptoms with grace and dignity, knowing that this milestone is unavoidable.
Or is it?
The definition of menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle: it signifies the end of the fertile phase of a woman's life. In menopause, the production of female hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, and estriol, by the ovaries decreases and then ceases. Some women do not experience any symptoms of menopause other than the cessation of their menstrual cycle. Other women report hot flashes, insomnia, low libido, fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety and/or depression, vaginal dryness and heart palpitations. Menopausal women have an increased risk for osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers.
Synthetic hormone replacement therapy was once recommended for post-menopausal women, not only for symptomatic control, but also for treating long-term medical complications of menopause. But in 2002, a health study on the long term risks and benefits of combined synthetic HRT (estrogen plus progestin) was halted due to significantly increased risks of breast cancer, blood clots, and stroke in the study participants. Furthermore, synthetic estrogen, which consists of a combination of equine (horse) estrogens, has been found to be more potent and more carcinogenic than natural estrogen (estradiol), and studies showed that it increased the risk of clots, stroke and heart attack.
Adopting a healthy diet and execise program along with the use of certain nutritional supplements such as evening primrose oil, omega 3 fatty acids, and bee pollen can be very helpful. Also, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may help treat the symptoms listed above and can be a safer, effective and alternative menopausal treatment.
So how is bioidentical hormone therapy different than synthetic hormones?
Synthetic hormones are not naturally occurring in the body; the body recognizes them as foreign substances and this can result in many side effects, including increased cancer and cardiovascular risk. Bioidentical hormones are compounded in labs from yams and are structurally identical to the hormones that the body produces itself. BHRT may have less side effects than synthetic hormone therapy, and can be beneficial in treating female menstrual irregularities and symptoms of menopause.
Natural estrogen has been shown to protect against heart disease and stroke, lower the incidence of Alzheimer's disease, improve memory and skin tone, and alleviate symptoms of menopause, such as headaches, mood swings, bloating, hot flashes and fatigue. Natural progesterone has been shown to protect against breast cancer, uterine cancer and fibrocystic disease, help fat metabolism, help to normalize blood sugar, help reverse osteoporosis, help improve thyroid function and protect against anxiety and irritability. In addition, many studies show that natural progesterone by itself or in combinations with estrogen inhibits hardening of arteries. In contrast, progestin, the synthetic form of progesterone, actually increases risk of breast cancer and strokes.
Another advantage of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is that the treatment is customized to the individual. An integrative doctor uses diagnostic tests to determine the patient's hormone needs, and the therapy is dosed accordingly. BHRT comes in several forms: creams, oral pills, shots, and troches, and each patient is carefully monitored through regular follow-up hormone panels in order to obtain symptom relief at the lowest possible dosage.
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