Understanding the Benefits and Risks of Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy

If you are over the age of 40 and experiencing weight gain, decreased energy, or impaired cognitive function, chances are you might have looked into Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT).  But with all of the information surrounding this treatment, how can you separate facts from fiction?  Dr. Bright McConnell, III of FitMed Partners performs BHRT evaluations and counsels patients on their options regarding treatment at his Daniel Island office.  Below are answers to some of the most popular questions he hears surrounding the benefits and risks of BHRT.

1. How is BHRT different from other hormone options available?  How does this increase or decrease the risks?

BHRT utilizes hormones with a chemical structure identical to hormones naturally produced in the human body. This is an important, key difference between the more commonly prescribed synthetic hormones, such as Premarin and Provera.  Most synthetic hormones are not a perfect match in the body and can produce abnormal metabolites that can cause side effects and increase the risk of cancer.  BHRT dosing can be prescribed or compounded specifically for you decreasing the risks of hormone therapy.  Along with close monitoring and adjustment, BHRT can be utilized to restore your hormone levels to an optimal range.

2. I’ve read that hormone therapy can lead to increased risk for certain cancers in women.  Are these findings accepted in the medical community?

Women have become cautious about hormone replacement therapy due to ongoing research that has demonstrated that the use of synthetic (HRT) hormone replacement has led to additional health problems including an increased risk of breast cancer.  But unlike synthetic progesterone, called a progestin, which has been found to increase the risk of breast cancer, the use of natural (bio-identical) hormones used in conjunction with BHRT does not increase breast cancer risk (as reported by Breast Cancer Research & Treatment in 2007).

Multiple published trials have also demonstrated that the breast cancer risk normally associated with hormone therapy is not seen if women choose BHRT therapy or bio-identical estrogen and progesterone. (Postgraduate Medicine, Volume 121 2009)

3. What benefits will women going through menopause or men going through andropause see from BHRT?

For perimenopausal, menopausal, or even post menopausal women, BHRT offers a range of benefits from alleviating the symptoms of night sweats and hot flashes to stabilizing weight gain, libido, and energy levels and decreasing irritability, insomnia, and forgetfulness.  Hormone optimization returns hormones to their clinically appropriate levels and reduces the risk of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, osteoporosis and increases insulin sensitivity.

Men begin losing testosterone in their 30’s.  Symptoms include changes in attitudes and moods, loss of energy and physical agility and loss of libido.  BHRT optimizes testosterone levels which research has shown  provides protection against heart disease, diabetes, loss of bone density and muscle strength and raises lean muscle mass, energy levels, libido, motivation, cognition, and memory.

4. Does BHRT assist in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline?

Increasing testosterone to optimal levels in aging men has been shown to decrease cholesterol and to protect the brain against the protein deposits that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.  Because a woman’s risk of these diseases increases greatly after menopause, BHRT is also an excellent therapy for prevention of these diseases in women.  A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Neurology, suggests that women who begin BHRT within five years of menopause were 30 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than women who started years later.

5. What are some of the physical and emotional benefits I will see once beginning BHRT?

Patients who utilize bio-identical hormone replacement therapy notice an almost immediate improvement in their anxiety and energy levels and sexual libido.  By returning the body back to an optimal level of hormones, patients will experience weight loss, increased metabolism, and improved athletic performance.  Those who before found themselves feeling moody or forgetful will begin to stabilize mentally and emotionally as their body returns to a healthier, happier level of fitness, performance, and vitality.