As a society, we are constantly bombarded with quick fixes and infomercials that promise the cure to whatever ails us. Menopause is one area that women are frequently targeted on. It is uncomfortable to experience, and for some individuals, medical therapy carries significant risk.
Bio-identical hormones are often marketed as a “natural” alternative to hormone replacement therapy. They claim that these hormones are identical to hormones made by the body. The theory is that “if it is natural, then it is safer.” Not only are they claimed to be safe, but bio-identical hormones apparently help with weight loss, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and provide a more balanced amount of hormone as well.
Bio-identical hormones typically are not provided like other prescription medication. Providers of these hormones will often complete testing of your hormone levels by testing the saliva. After the hormone is measured, they can then give you the specific dose you need. The dose then has to be made in a pharmacy through a process called “compounding.” Pharmacies mix the medication according to a specific order provided by a healthcare provider. The medication not only has the active hormone, but also inactive ingredients to help hold a pill together, or make it into a gel, cream, or lotion.
The concern with bio-identical hormones is that they are not FDA approved. This is important because when you get a prescription from your physician, side-effects and adverse reactions are monitored by the FDA. When an adverse reaction occurs, it has to be reported to the FDA. However, adverse reactions caused by herbal and bio-identical medications are not required to be reported.
As a result, we don’t really know about their reported safety. FDA approved prescription medication, on the other hand, is significantly scrutinized and tested. The FDA will probably give more attention to compounding pharmacies in the future, since our country has recently had a significant number of infections associated with steroids from a compounding pharmacy.
There may be situations in which bio-identical hormone therapy is appropriate. There is a good review of the current known facts of bio-identical hormones that can be found on the FDA’s website. However, these medications have very minimal scientific evidence behind them, and the proclaimed benefits of them are based on a limited number of vague studies.