Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy
Today millions of men and women concerned about aging and maintaining a quality of life are receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Hormone-related problems- such as mood swings, PMS, infertility, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, weight gain, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, frequent bladder infection, heart disease, and osteoporosis– can be alleviated by achieving a proper hormone balance. In considering the benefit-risk ratio, it is important to take into account alternatives to traditional therapy.
Why Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Alternatives to traditional HRT include the use of natural plant-derived bio-identical hormones which have the same chemical makeup as those produced by the body. Synthetic hormones and hormones from animal sources do not allow the body to produce the complete range of other hormones which are needed to operate at full capacity, and thus are more likely to produce side effects.
If you haven’t heard much about natural hormone replacement, you’re not alone. Because natural hormones can not be patented for the same reason you can not patent natural air, water, or vitamins, there’s little or no incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to spend millions of dollars to produce, test, and submit to the FDA for approval, and market these hormones.
What Hormones Are We Referring To?
Natural hormone replacement isn’t just estrogens and progesterone. Natural estrogens and progesterone are just part of a complicated and closely interlinked hormonal system that includes many other hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, pregnenolone, and melatonin, to name just a few. A lot of these hormones have been found to decline with age. Restoring them to normal levels with natural replacement versions can have a remarkably revitalizing result on our hearts and immune systems our moods, energy, and libido.
Estrogen is not one hormone, but a set of similar hormones with varying levels of activity. The three most essential estrogens are estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estradiol is the main estrogen produced by the ovary, and estrone is made by conversion of estradiol. The most popular form of estrogen replacement remains conjugated estrogens (including many estrogens that are natural to horses, but few that are natural to humans). In the intestinal tract, these are converted mainly to estrone. Synthetic Ethinyl estradiol is also commonly used in estrogen supplements. Estrone and estradiol are the estrogens predominantly linked to breast and endometrial cancer.
New regimens have been developed that use natural estriol in the greatest concentration together with other naturally occurring estrogens in an appropriately balanced ratio. Estriol produces very little endometrial proliferation and hardly ever causes postmenopausal vaginal bleeding. Estriol may also be effective at reducing the risk of blood clots in the veins or lungs. Estriol is produced in very large quantities during pregnancy and is believed to be protective against breast cancer. High levels of estriol are found in vegetarians and Asian women, who have a much lower risk of breast cancer.
The hormone progesterone participates in practically every physiological process, in both men and women. The stabilizing action of progesterone is particularly visible in muscle tissue, such as the uterus, blood vessel walls, the heart, the intestine, the bladder, and bone cells. Less noticeably, progesterone stabilizes and normalizes nervous, secretory, immune and growth processes.
Natural progesterone comes from yams and soybean. It matches precisely the chemical composition of the body’s progesterone. Synthetic progesterone, or progestins, are chemically developed from progesterone and respond differently in the body triggering unwanted side effects such as salt build-up, fluid retention, low blood sugar, breast tenderness, and weight gain, and depression. The role of natural progesterone in protecting against and treating osteoporosis, helping to clear endometriosis and fibrocystic breast, and treating vaginal dryness, infertility, and menstruation irregularities is receiving considerable attention in the medical and lay communities. In men over 55 natural progesterone is being used to raise libido, and to treat osteoporosis.
Sometimes, it is important to consider the addition of the androgens, testosterone or synthetic methyltestosterone, to a woman’s hormone replacement regimen. Commonly considered a male hormone, testosterone is also made by the female ovaries as well as is essential to normal sexual development. Testosterone plays an essential part in maintaining sexual desire, in addition to the strength and integrity of skin, muscle and bone, reducing cholesterol levels, and improving cardiovascular circulation in both men and women.
As a woman enters the changes of menopause, circulating androgens start to decline as a result of age-related reductions in adrenal and ovarian secretion. After menopause, a woman’s overall androgen production decreases by as much as 50%. It is possible to supplement a woman’s testosterone deficiency with the same natural testosterone she has produced most of her life. Synthetic hormones with even the slightest alterations can produce side effects not found with the natural hormone.
DHEA, Pregnenolone, and Melatonin
Not just estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, but several other hormones, including growth hormone, melatonin, DHEA, and pregnenolone, reach peak levels before or during the third decade of life and then begin a gradual decline of about 2% each year. Research clearly indicates that replacing insufficient levels of these important hormones can, among other favorable effects, help protect the heart, improve mental awareness, make bones stronger, and rejuvenate a lagging sex life. We are only starting to understand the health benefits that can be attained by restoring levels of these vital hormones to their youthful peak.
Since steroid hormones play such an important role in the maintenance of health, knowledge of an imbalance in any one or more hormones can help illuminate the source of health problems and give a rational basis for correcting the imbalance through diet, exercise, or hormone supplementation.
Steroid hormone levels can be determined with blood and saliva testing. When the various glands manufacture the steroids they are released into the bloodstream bound to carrier proteins. Only a small fraction (1-5%) of a given amount of steroid hormone breaks loose from the carrier protein in the bloodstream and is free to enter target tissues. Blood testing measures both the bound and unbound steroid hormones. Studies show that there is a strong connection between the levels of steroid hormones in the saliva and the bioavailable (unbound) levels of steroids in the bloodstream.
Levels of all steroid hormones can be determined individually by both blood and saliva testing. Blood testing requires a prescription from your doctor. Saliva testing kits can be acquired through compounding pharmacies involved with natural hormone replacement.
Customize, Do Not Compromise
As many as two-thirds of women that begin HRT stop within two years. One major reason they stop is because of side effects, especially the irregular bleeding that can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.
So how do you receive the benefits of HRT and avoid the side effects? Customize. HRT has to be carefully initiated by your doctor after a personal history, family history, and current medical situation are assessed. Everyone is different and will respond to therapy in their own way: therefore the selection of hormone(s), dose and dosage form must be specific to each individual. Close observation is necessary to ensure proper dosage changes and prevent unnecessary side effects. Compounding pharmacists can make natural hormones in a variety of doses, regimens, and preparations developed to make you more comfortable with your therapy while gaining long-lasting benefits.