Menopause and Bio-identical Hormones

By Marianne Marchese, ND
Author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness: The Detoxification Plan for Breast Cancer, Endometriosis, Infertility and Other Women’s Health Conditions.

Menopause is a time of transition in a woman’s life. No two women enter into menopause the same and thus cannot address the issues that arise with a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. Menopause is a normal part of the aging process that affects women in their 40’s and 50’s. The definition of menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle. It is not a disease condition, although is often thought of and treated as a disease. A woman becomes postmenopausal after going an entire year without a menstrual cycle. However, a woman may experience signs and symptoms of menopause years before the menstrual cycle actually stops.

Typical symptoms of menopause:
*Hot flashes
*Night sweats
*Low libido
*Mood swings
*Vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse
*Hair falling out
*Joint pain
*Decreased memory and concentration

There are several treatment options available to women and as women become more educated about these options they often ask their physician which treatment is best for them. Most often it depends on a woman’s individual risk factors for breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and osteoporosis. Treatment options include bio-identical hormone therapy, botanical/herbal medicine, homeopathy, diet and nutrition, and nutritional supplements. Sometimes the best approach for managing symptoms is a combination or one or more treatments. Some physicians are not trained in all the possible treatment options and may not understand that some herbs interact with medications. A naturopathic physician is probably the best trained in all options available to women.

What are bio-identical hormones?
For decades, women in the U.S. have been prescribed hormones for menopause. In 2001 all that changed with the release of the first large double-blind placebo controlled study on the use of hormones in post-menopausal women. This study was called The Women’s Health Initiative and showed that hormones use had a slight increase in breast cancer risk, stroke and heart attack. [1] However, this study was done using synthetic hormones. A very specific yet commonly prescribed formula of estrogens from horse urine, and synthetic progestins. This study was not done using bio-identical hormones, which are very different.

Bioidentical hormones are compounds that have exactly the same chemical and molecular structure as human hormones. In contrast, non-bioidentical, or synthetic, hormones are structurally different from the hormones a woman’s ovary makes. [2] Bio-identical hormones are made both by conventional pharmaceutical companies and compounding pharmacies. The bio-identical hormones made by conventional pharmaceutical companies come with limitations in dosages, and control of additives and fillers. Compounding pharmacies can formulate estrogen plus progesterone pills and creams, estrogen only pills and creams, and can add other bio-identical hormones such as testosterone and DHEA as determined by the physician. The compounded hormones come with unlimited dosing options and the ability to titrate the dose up and down depending on how a woman responds. [2] It allows for more individualization of hormone therapy.


Dynamic Living Magazine Issue Vol. 3  May/June 2011 continue to next page