When most people think of hormones, they think of menopause, birth control, or testosterone levels. The truth is there are many systems in the body that are influenced by a range of hormones. A number of factors can influence hormone balance, including chronic illnesses, a diet high in fat or sugar, stress, lack of exercise, sleep quality, exposure to light, and natural aging.
While some factors may be out of your control, it is possible to naturally balance your hormone levels and help your body work in harmony with bioidentical hormone therapy.
What is Bioidentical Hormone Replacement?
Bioidentical hormone therapy rose in popularity in the wake of the massive Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial which was stopped early because women taking combined estrogen and progestin were found to be at higher risk of blood clots, heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer. Despite these risks being small, the fact that the study used non-bioidentical hormones led to fear among patients and doctors.
The interest in a more natural approach to hormone replacement has placed more attention on bioidentical hormones. These hormones are not found in this form in nature. Instead, they are synthesized from a plant chemical that’s extracted from soy and yams. Bioidentical progesterone is just progesterone which has been finely ground in the lab for improved absorption. Bioidentical estrogens include estrone, 17 beta-estradiol, and estriol, which is the type of estrogen that decreases with menopause.
Conventional hormone replacement therapy uses synthetic and animal-based hormones that vary slightly from the hormones your body produces on its own. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is different because it uses hormones that are biochemically identical to the hormones your body has produced all of your life, but may no longer be producing in sufficient levels.
The human body does not distinguish bioidentical hormones from the hormones naturally produced, which means blood tests will show hormones the body makes and those taken. Conventional hormone therapy is different. For example, Premarin, a conventional estrogen replacement that was used in the WHI study, gets metabolized into many forms of estrogen that can’t be measured with standard lab tests. This is important as bioidentical hormones allow for better monitoring and individualized treatment plans.
Are There Real Benefits with Hormone Replacement?
Hormone deficiency can lead to many symptoms that are often written off as normal aging. If your hormones are out of balance, you may be experiencing symptoms like difficulty concentrating, weight gain that doesn’t respond well to exercise, anxiety and mood swings, difficulty sleeping, and sexual side effects. Hormone replacement can naturally restore your hormones to their normal levels to help alleviate these symptoms.
Multiple studies have confirmed the benefits of hormone therapy for those who have a need:
- Low testosterone in men can lead to depression and mood swings. Testosterone replacement can improve these symptoms.
- Menopause can lead to depressive symptoms and mood problems. Hormone replacement has been found effective at treating these and other symptoms of menopause.
- Human growth hormone (HGH) therapy can boost lean muscle mass and reduce fat. One study found that HGH replacement reduced fat by an average of 5 pounds over the course of 26 weeks. During the trial, men also had an average of 5 pounds of gained lean muscle mass.
- HGH therapy can boost muscle strength by stimulating collagen production in skeletal muscle and tendons. In one study, men over the age of 50 who received growth hormone therapy had higher muscle strength after the six-month trial.
- Hormone replacement can improve sleep caused by an imbalance of growth hormone, testosterone, or estrogen. Insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing are common side effects of a hormone deficiency. Reduced production of growth hormone is believed to affect the sleep-wake cycle while women in menopause often have difficulty sleeping due to mood problems, hot flashes, and other symptoms of estrogen deficiency.
- Hormone therapy is the only viable treatment that can prevent osteoporosis, which commonly affects women as estrogen levels decline. Estrogen helps build and maintain bone mass and post-menopausal women are at a much higher risk of bone loss and fractures.
Beginning Hormone Therapy
Most people over 40 begin to show signs of hormonal imbalance. You may have a hormone deficiency if you have symptoms that include:
- Low libido or erectile dysfunction
- Stubborn weight gain
- Lost muscle mass
- Hair loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
- Memory problems
- Poor concentration
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
Hormone imbalance is something that must be diagnosed by a trained physician like Richard Gaines from HealthGAINS, through in-depth questionnaires and lab testing to create a treatment plan. If you suspect your hormones are imbalanced, the first step may be hormone therapy clinics for a physician consultation, lab work, and exam. Despite the many benefits, there are risks with any type of hormone replacement so it is only prescribed when there is a clinical need.
Author Bio: Dr. Richard Gaines is President and Chief Medical Officer of HealthGAINS, an anti-aging medical practice he founded in 2005 after a distinguished 30-year career as a physician and healthcare executive. Since graduating Harvard Medical School, he resolved to find a new approach to healing that preserved health and wellness before disease and aging had a chance to take hold. Dr. Gaines is now at the forefront of this rapidly evolving science of anti-aging medicine. He is licensed to practice in over 30 states and routinely travels, offering consultations. Stay Connected to him at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.