Teary-eyed, my patient relayed to me that she "was tired and depressed, not sleeping well, frustrated with her weight, and had no sex drive." Despite being in previously great health, and continuing good diet and exercise habits, her body was in her words "out of control." There were also new aches and pains as well as noting her skin looked dry and lifeless.Added to this was a host of new medications started in recent years, including Prozac for mood, Xanax for anxiety, Ambien for sleep, and Lipitor for her newly diagnosed high cholesterol. To make matters worse and behind the scenes, at the young age of 55, silent aging processes such as thinning bones and artery plaque were beginning.The stress of not feeling well, poor sleep, and medication side effects was pushing her toward adrenal fatigue. The high-stress hormone called cortisol had been on overdrive for many years, causing the secondary effects of high blood sugar and high insulin, which conspire along with cortisol to put weight on especially around the midsection. In times of additional stressors, her "reserves" of cortisol were depleted leaving her emotionally labile and energy-drained.This patient represents thousands of patients that I've had the pleasure of successfully helping with all of these issues. While the sad truth is that most of them had stories that included the majority of the issues in this one example, the good news is that a real solution exists.
Hormones are chemical messengers that help the entire body function normally. They work in concert with the nervous system by responding to neuronal commands that regulate everything from growth and development, to reproduction, to the aging process itself. Hormones control metabolism, mood, energy, sleep, and sex drive. Put simply, humans are designed to be healthy with optimal levels of hormones.Bioidentical means identical to our biology. A bioidentical hormone has 100% exactly the same chemical and molecular structure as the hormone that is normally found in the body. By contrast, many drugs are similar to natural hormones, and will activate hormone receptors in the body, but are not identical. Birth control pills, for example, are much stronger than our natural hormones yet not identical.For women, the natural ovarian hormones include estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and these hormones plummet after menopause. In the world of hormone replacement, there are synthetic "look-alike" drugs that will stimulate the natural hormone receptors, such as brand name Premarin for estrogen, and Provera for progesterone. Both of these drugs have effects beyond that of their natural hormone equivalent, and as one would expect, numerous side effects not observed with bioidentical hormones.If the exact replica of a hormone were available for use in humans, then why would we ever use a synthetic drug that was not bioidentical? Because you can't patent something that is naturally occurring, and thus if you are a pharmaceutical company you can't make any money on it. Enter the invention of a drug that is similar enough to bind and activate hormone receptors but unique enough to warrant a patent. The patented drug is then worth the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to get FDA approval, and in the case of hormone replacement for women generate billions of dollars of sales each year, for decades.Unlike drugs such as Premarin, which contains 10 estrogens derived from pregnant horse urine and none of which are the same as the three naturally occurring estrogens in the human body, bioidentical hormones are derived from plant sources and synthesized into the exact same chemical found in the human body.
In 2002 the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study shocked doctors and patients alike with the revelation and proclamation that "hormones cause cancer." More specifically, the non-bioidentical, look-alike to progesterone called Provera caused a 26% increase in the rate of invasive breast cancer. Provera also caused a 200% increase in blood clots, a 41% increase in stroke, and a 29% increase in heart attack or death from heart disease.It is worth noting in a case of "missing the forest for the trees" that for the treatment group in the WHI, the decreased mortality from hip fractures and colon cancer offset the increase in breast cancer and 97.5% of women on treatment had no adverse events.Bioidentical progesterone has been studied extensively, in dozens of studies head to head with Provera, and simply stated it does not have the same risks. For everything bad with Provera, progesterone is the opposite. As an example, in the largest study involving progesterone, the European EPIC study involving over 50,000 women taking hormones, it was found that progesterone actually lowered the risk of breast cancer by 10%.
I recently had a new patient come to me for help with BHRT. She moved to our area about a year ago, sought treatment from a local gynecologist, was told that BHRT was "voodoo" and promptly instructed to stop her hormone therapy, which she did. A year later her health had deteriorated to that point that she could hardly function. After being back on BHRT, she is now recovering her health. I have thousands of patients who will vouch for the fact that BHRT works very well to support health and harmony.HRT is not about treating menopausal withdrawal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats or mood swings. Although it does treat those symptoms quite effectively, HRT is really about preventing disease and maintaining quality of life. It's about keeping the body operating well. Not having optimal hormone levels is like letting a fine automobile just run out of oil, then declaring it is "growing old" as the red light comes on and it overheats.Bioidentical hormones were being used long before drug companies even came into existence. They are available in a few commercial forms, but mostly we employ the compounding pharmacist to make BHRT formulations that are specific to each patient and uniquely available in either a tablet that dissolves under the tongue or a topical cream that contains just the right mixture of the ovarian hormones.There isn't anything "voodoo" about BHRT. It is a well-researched and proven branch of medicine that is growing rapidly as more and more people discover its health promoting and quality of life benefits.If you wish to take a proactive approach to health and aging, and maximize the quality as well as the quantity of life, then you should research and consider BHRT. If you would like to see more evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of BHRT, then consider attending my seminar on BHRT for women in which we review more details on the various ovarian hormones, studies showing the safety and efficacy of BHRT, and an outline of treatment protocols.Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.