Bioidentical hormones for menopause: what’s the latest?

Posted by on Mar 19, 2012 in bioidentical hormones | 2 comments

It’s been some time since I covered the topic of bioidentical hormones. And with the lastest review of the Women’s Health Initiative data and yet another push in favour of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I thought that an update was in order, particularly because the naysayers continue to emphasize that HRT is the end all to be all and that there are not evidence-based alternatives.

Think again.

For those of you who need a refresher in bioidenticals, they are hormones that are molecularly similar to those produced naturally by the body. HRT is manufactured and consequently, has been shown to alter how cell receptor bind to these hormones and function. Bioidentical hormones are often compounded in specialized pharmacies, i.e., they are individualized as directed by a health professional to the exact dosage and regimen required,  based on a woman’s personal symptoms, hormone levels, and preference. Yet, claims that they are safer and equally effective alternatives have been challenged, namely due to the lack of scientifically sound data.

At last, that challenge is beginning to change, as more and more women turn away from HRT. In a recent study published in the open access journal  BMC Women’s Health, researchers observed 296 menopausal women receiving compounded bioidenticals from six community pharmacies over a period of 7 years.The majority of women in the study were an average of 52 years old, in good health, and of moderate to average rate; most had not used HRT before. Although various compounded forms of bioidenticals were used in the study, the majority were topical, followed by oral, vaginal and under the tongue (sublingual). Moreover, all women were started at low doses of either progesterone as a single therapy or in combination with estrogen and then adjusted accordingly.

Overall and within three to six months after starting therapy, women reported significant improvements in their mood, including at least a 25% reduction in mood swings, irritability and anxiety. They also reported improvements in night sweats and hot flashes. Moreover, women who started on progesterone only therapy had much greater reductions in their mood symptoms compared to women who started on combination therapy.

Bioidentical hormone therapy also proved to be safe, with no woman experiencing a heart attack or developing breast cancer, although importantly, longer follow up times are needed before safety can be firmly established.

So, what are the drawbacks here? First, this was an observational study and undoubtedly, by relying on women to self report symptoms, there’s always room for bias. Still, this is the first well designed trial looking at compounded bioidentical hormones as opposed to manufactured formulations. And, while significant improvements were seen in mood symptoms, the verdict is still out with regards to vasomotor symptoms, i.e. night sweats and hot flashes.

Like any therapy, hormone or alternative, speak to a health practitioner first. Make choices based on information, not simply advice. Right now? Compounded bioidentical hormones appear to offer an advantage over HRT but more study is needed. Clearly, they may not offer the same benefits in terms of flashes but again, more research is needed.

I like the fact that scientists are starting to pay attention. You?


  1. 6-11-2013

    First let me say how your website title made me chuckle – memorable and funny!  More importantly I’m so glad that you are covering BHRT because as a fellow believer (from I hope that people do begin to see that after some initial bad press which was due to some practitioners not knowing what they were doing of being overly enthusiastic and using bioidenticals too widely for too many things, the research is really turning in the favor of these types of treatments.  Used correctly, they really do work and in a way that can be less harsh than traditional hormone replacement.

    • 6-11-2013

      @rejuvenationmed Thank you! It’s always wise to explore all the options and to do so cautiously and armed with as much data as possible. For some, bioidenticals are the answer, for others? Not so much! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

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