Thirty years ago, Gail Sheely’s landmark book “Passages” discussed the critical phases that adults move through. Menopause, with its accompanying hot flashes, sleeplessness, bone-density loss and mood swings, is unquestionably one of those stages. Women in search of some respite from the frustrating symptoms of this mid-life transition should look into bio-identical hormones.
Bio-identical hormones are the same in molecular structure to those that the body generates naturally. Synthesized from a chemical extracted from yams and soy, they are a natural hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But the truth is, any treatment made from an animal, vegetable or mineral can also be called “natural.”
Premara, the drug tracked for years in the Women’s Health Initiative, was derived from the urine of pregnant mares and was considered natural, but not bio-identical. That study was abruptly ended in 2002 as a consequence of issues with increased risks for breast cancer, heart disease, strokes and blood clots. These dangers must always be considered when seeking relief from menopause symptoms, and most experts concur that therapy should be brief and conducted under close observation.
Bio-identicals can be delivered in several ways – pills, skin medications, patches, gels and ointments. Pills are metabolized in the liver first, thus activating proteins associated with heart attacks and strokes. Topical applications travel directly into the blood vessels, bypassing the liver and those possible associated side effects.
Studies have shown good symptom relief with bio-identicals and have been Food and drug administration approved. This means readily available from huge pharmaceutical companies with a prescription. However, just as “one size fits all” is rarely true with clothing off the rack, the standardized formulations and dosages of mass medicine don’t always meet individual women’s needs, either.
A compounding pharmacy can produce a customized solution on a individualized basis. Dosages can be modified according to symptoms, and additives in commercial formulations that cause allergic reactions can be removed.
It is good to remember that a few of the same negative effects in non-compounded HRT, including breast tenderness or bleeding, can still occur. That is why it is recommended that women work with a physician who is very knowledgeable about this treatment, and with a particular compounding pharmacy. Responsible practitioners will also start with what is known as a hormone panel, which will help guide precise dosing and balance between estrogen and progesterone. As therapy proceeds, succeeding monitoring will modify the dosage as appropriate.
Your compounding pharmacy should also be certified by the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board and be happy to share their quality-control procedures with you. Then you’re able to feel more comfortable with an individualized treatment that is best designed to help you cope with life’s changes.