Your body’s hormones control most of your basic bodily functions. They serve as an internal communication system between cells throughout the body. They coordinate everything from digestion and growth to your appetite, immune function, mood, and libido. So, when your hormones are out of balance, even slightly, it can have a big impact on your health and well-being.
Often, when people’s hormones drop or become unbalanced, they turn to hormone replacement therapies to ease symptoms. One such therapy, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. It promises a “natural” solution to hormone issues. But what exactly is BHRT, and how’s it different from other hormone replacement therapies?
Read on to learn all you need to know about BHRT, its benefits and risks, and whether it may be right for you.
BHRT is typically used as people age and hormone levels drop, particularly for women who are in perimenopause or menopause. It’s used to increase the levels of the hormones that have dropped and improve moderate to severe menopause symptoms, including:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood changes
- memory loss
- weight gain
- sleep issues
- loss of interest in sex or pain during sex
In addition to helping with symptoms, hormone replacement therapy may also reduce your risk for diabetes, tooth loss, and cataracts. There’s some evidence that it can help improve skin thickness, hydration, and elasticity, and even reduce wrinkles.
For those with cancer who have undergone treatments that affect their estrogen levels, BHRT has been shown to be effective in improving their general well-being and quality of life. In one study, people with cancer who underwent BHRT found relief from treatment-related symptoms such as migraines, incontinence, low libido, and insomnia. The study also found their recurrence rate of breast cancer was no higher than average.
While the FDA has approved some preparations of bioidentical estradiol and progesterone, it hasn’t approved any compounded bioidentical hormones. There are claims that bioidentical hormones are safer and more effective than traditional HRT because they’re identical in structure to those produced in the body. But these claims have not been confirmed by large-scale, reputable studies. The FDA urges caution when using compounded products.
Research has shown that hormone replacement therapy in general may increase the risk for certain conditions and diseases including:
- blood clots
- gallbladder disease
- heart disease
- breast cancer
There may also be side effects that accompany BHRT, particularly in the beginning as your body adjusts to the hormones. Common side effects of BHRT may include:
- weight gain
- mood swings
- increased facial hair in women
Many people cannot take BHRT or any form of hormone replacement. The risks and potential for side effects may vary among women depending on their health history. Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor before using any hormone replacement therapy.