The use of bioidentical hormones (also called “natural hormone therapy”) dates back to the 1930s, when estrogen extracted from pregnant women was used to provide relief for menopause symptoms. This practice was replaced years later when a synthetic form of estrogen was developed using urine from pregnant mares. But risks identified in the
Women’s Health Initiative study led people to search for an alternative. This is where bioidentical hormones came in.
The term “bioidentical” doesn’t have a precise medical definition, but generally, these hormones are compounds that have an exact chemical replica of those occurring naturally in humans.
Such compounds are not found in this form in nature, so these hormones (both estrogen and testosterone) are synthesized from a plant chemical extracted from yams and soy. Although bioidentical hormones were originally used to treat women, the field has broadened to include men’s treatments.
Some forms of bioidentical hormones are made by drug companies and are FDA approved. However, the types of bioidentical hormones that are usually discussed in the media fall under the scope of alternative medicine.
Generally, these preparations are manufactured in special pharmacies called compounding pharmacies, which are not FDA approved because they aren’t standardized. Usually, a saliva test is used to identify hormone deficiencies, and retests are performed to adjust dosages.
For this reason, bioidentical hormones are marketed as being individualized, and therefore superior to the “one-size-fits-all” brands manufactured by drug companies. But are bioidentical hormones actually better?
Here are some points to remember about them:
- Bioidentical hormones are not necessarily more “natural” than many conventional formulations.
- Although a saliva test can indicate hormone deficiencies, the amount of hormones in your body fluctuates throughout the day, so it often does not provide accurate information.
- Bioidentical hormones do not have the same history of clinical testing that conventional formulations do, so there is no credible scientific evidence to support claims that they are more safe or effective than conventional drugs.
Bioidentical hormones are also useful if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the traditional drug medications.