Hormones are substances produced by glands in the body and released into the bloodstream. They travel in this way to cells in other parts of the body and have specific functions; each hormone exerts characteristic effects. You might think that sex hormones only have to do with menstrual cycles and hot flashes, but they actually play a big part in other functions of the body, too – the hormones estrogen and testosterone have over four hundred functions. When hormone levels decline, the body’s efficiency in functioning declines as well.
Hormones control blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. In that way, they help to prevent heart disease. Hormones also produce all the neurotransmitters that make us feel good. So, when those hormone levels decline, it may cause us to become irritable, anxious, and depressed; we may even lose some short-term memory.
One sign that your hormones are declining is if you start to feel aches and pains more acutely, since hormones are great anti-inflammatories. They also help keep bones and muscles strong and healthy, so any decrease can eventually result in osteoporosis, poor muscle tone, and increased frailty. In addition, your energy decreases along with your libido.
Bioidentical hormones are designed to replicate molecules produced naturally in the body. They are made from either soy or yams. Hormones used in traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are not the same molecule as bioidentical hormones – they can differ by more than just a few bonds and often, there are large side-chains attached to them. Because the human body is incredibly complex and requires very specific “keys” to fit into receptor sites, this difference means that the two types of hormones will be received differently by the body and therefore this causes different reactions. Take, for example, Premarin, the most commonly-prescribed form of HRT for women for many years. Premarin is derived from the urine of pregnant, dehydrated horses, which have over 27 estrogen compounds that are molecularly different from human estrogen compounds. Because the human body can only use two of these compounds, the remaining 25 are foreign and therefore useless to us, forcing our bodies to work harder to react with them. It has been shown that Premarin can cause DNA damage and therefore increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer.
Side effects of non-bioidentical estrogens, such as Premarin, include:
The process of getting hormones balanced starts with lifestyle changes. The focus is on stress and diet and the effects that they have on hormonal dysregulation. Herbs such as Dong Quai, black cohosh, and chasteberry help with balancing hormones, but for many women, they are not sufficiently effective. The alternative is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). BHRT imitates the body’s natural processes, bringing it back into balance. The extent of the treatment depends on how much hormone production has decreased.
It should be noted that before any hormonal balance treatment is adopted, you must find a professional provider who is experienced in the use of bioidentical hormones. It’s also important that you educate yourself of the options available to you. To gather information, read reference books and articles and document any changes you experience with your body. Use this information to talk with your health professionals.