Conventional vs. Bioidentical Hormones: Which Is Right for You?
As we grow older, our bodies naturally start to produce lower amounts of sex hormones. Nutrition, exercise and quality sleep can delay the decline of estrogen and testosterone, but sometimes these habits just aren’t enough to generate the hormones we need to experience a happy, healthy sex life.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is commonly used to help restore healthy levels of hormones in both men and women. Today, adults who want this procedure can choose between conventional HRT and bioidentical HRT. Read on to discover the difference between these two hormone therapies, and to get some indication of which one might be better for you.
Conventional HRT & how it works
Conventional hormone replacement therapy replaces estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in men and women whose bodies have started producing these hormones in lower amounts or stopped producing them altogether. The formulations used in conventional HRT are prepared in a lab and usually contain synthetic hormones and hormones derived from horse urine.
Conventional hormone replacement therapy is available in the form of pills, injections, patches, creams, gels, sprays, rings and subdermal pellets. Your doctor can help you choose the best product and delivery method for you based on your lifestyle and the hormone types and amounts you need.
Pros & cons of conventional HRT
Conventional hormone replacement therapy is effective at reducing symptoms of menopause and andropause (a condition in men similar to menopause), and restoring sexual libido and quality of life in men and women with low hormone levels. This type of HRT is widely available, offered by many doctors, and has its efficacy and safety backed by decades of research and medical studies.
In women, conventional hormone replacement therapy presents potential side effects that include blood clots, stroke, heart disease and breast cancer. In men, this treatment increases the risk for excessive red blood cell production, an enlarged prostate, prostate cancer, cardiovascular risk and sleep apnea. Men need to tell their doctor if they have a history of blood clots, because that factor predominantly contributes to clots once men start testosterone therapy.
Conventional HRT generally adopts a one-size-fits-all approach in that each formulation delivers the same amount of hormones to all patients who use it. Such an approach can lead to abnormally high hormone levels in some men and women that increase the risk for conditions such as breast cancer or an enlarged prostate.
Bioidentical HRT & how it works
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy uses plant-based hormones that mimic naturally occurring hormones in the human body. The therapy is specially formulated for each patient to deliver only the exact amount and type of hormones their body needs to function optimally and regain their sexual libido.
There has been no evidence as yet that bioidentical hormones are any safer than conventional hormones, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but there are “natural” hormone components in commercially available HRT therapies.
Bioidentical HRT is available as pills, injections, patches and subdermal pellets.
Pros & cons of bioidentical HRT
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is newer than conventional HRT and not as widely available as of yet. As a result, this treatment may be relatively difficult to find.
Again, it’s important to note that these hormones (known as compounded bioidentical hormones) are not approved by the FDA and may not be available through most doctors who practice traditional medicine.
Some formulations of bioidentical hormone therapy are custom-made for each patient based on unique hormonal needs, and that is viewed as a major advantage to this therapy.
A study published in Postgraduate Medicine showed bioidentical HRT is more effective than conventional HRT and associated with lower risks of breast cancer and heart disease. Some doctors remain on the fence regarding the safety and efficacy of bioidentical HRT, however, given that not all formulations are approved by the FDA.
What type of HRT should you choose?
The type of hormone therapy you choose should align with your personal health preferences and health goals. People who want to stay away from synthetic medicines may prefer bioidentical HRT, while those who feel safer using FDA-approved medicines may prefer sticking with conventional hormone replacement therapy.
Anyone who has risk factors for cancer should weigh the pros and cons of each of these hormone therapies, given that conventional HRT may deliver higher amounts of estrogen and/or testosterone than is required.
The best way to decide between conventional and bioidentical hormone therapy is to do your own research and consult with doctors who offer one or both treatments. A doctor can answer all of your questions and suggest the best treatment for you based on your medical history and unique situation.