Here in the US, conventional medicine most often manages troublesome menopause symptoms with synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy. This can produce unhealthy side effects and unnecessary risk for the patient. The majority of women using this therapy are unaware they have other options for balancing their hormones. Safe and effective herbal medicines as well as bio-identical hormones are two other choices which have proven to be very successful for many women in our practice here at Whole Health Concord. At Whole Health, our Naturopathic Doctors treat many women struggling with the discomforts of menopause and specialize in both plant-based and bio-identical hormone treatments.
Synthetic vs. Bio-Identical Hormones
One of the reasons so few people know about bio-identical and herbal treatments is there is more research available on synthetic hormone replacement because synthetic medications are patentable. Natural substances (those existing in nature) are not; therefore, less profit is available for research, development, and sale of bio-identical estrogens, progesterone and other hormones as well as herbs.
Bio-identical hormones, made from wild yam and soy, offer less side effects and risks than synthetic hormones. One reason for this is that they are made in a lab to look exactly like our estrogens and progesterone that we make in our bodies. Our body easily recognizes these hormones and uses them efficiently, allowing us to use lower doses with better effectiveness in regards to symptom relief. This is in comparison to Prempro®, one of the most-prescribed menopausal synthetic hormone therapies in the US. It is made from equilin, the urine from pregnant mares. This very potent form of estrogen is much harder for a woman’s body to use efficiently and break down effectively than her native estrogens.
The second reason we often see less side effects and associate natural hormones with less cancer risk is that the medications are made according to a physician’s recommendation in regards to dosing amount and frequency. Compounding pharmacists will make the pill, cream or suppository to cater to the patient’s individual needs so they are not getting a one size fits all type of dose.
Testing allows for individualized treatment
Prior to treatment, testing should be done on each patient taking any form of HRT regardless of if it is bio-identical or synthetic. This gives the doctor information about what role the patient’s hormone levels are playing in their symptoms. It also provides information about the risk of estrogen-related cancers. Looking at how well estrogen is being metabolized in the body and the ratio of estrogen with other hormones, especially progesterone, is particularly important.
The female hormones play together in a symphony. This means that when one hormone is out of tune, others often are too. In addition to estrogens and progesterone, it is also critical to assess testosterone, DHEA and adrenal gland and thyroid function in a woman struggling with menopausal symptoms as these glands play key roles in the overall success of the endocrine system. Stress, either physical or mental/emotional, can make a very negative impact on our endocrine system by overworking the adrenal glands. These two glands that sit on top of the kidneys put out our stress hormone but is also responsible for precursors to our sex hormones. Weakened adrenal glands are often the reason why so many women have such difficulty keeping hormones balanced as they enter into menopause. When a woman’s ovarian reserves decline beginning at peri-menopause, her adrenals and thyroid attempt to pick up some of the slack. If the adrenals have been overworked, they are unable to do so successfully. Balancing the entire biochemical pathway, including the adrenals and thyroid, makes for better health.
Regardless of the type of hormone replacement she is using, a woman’s hormones should be tested annually. Our preferred method of testing sex hormones at Whole Health Concord is salivary measurement. Due to this method’s ability to detect the “free” amount of hormone, that which is able to do work, numerous studies have proven that salivary assays of sex hormones best correlates with a patient’s symptoms. In addition, salivary methods allow for the patient to collect multiple samples over a 24 hour period, allowing for an average level which is quite beneficial as hormones can fluctuate throughout the day. Thorough thyroid panels are performed using blood testing.
Optimal health as we age
Many of our patients at Whole Health Concord come to us after months of struggling with hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, poor cognition, low libido and sleepless nights, desperate for some relief. Assessing their hormone status via testing, designing a nutrition plan to cater to their biochemistry and a supplement plan to nurture the hormonal pathways that need extra attention during their transition are what make the naturopathic approach so successful in giving these patients their quality of life back.
If you believe hormone balancing therapy could be beneficial to you please give our office a call at 603-369-4626. All our doctors offer free 15 minute consults in order to learn about your symptoms and offer you information on how they will approach your health concerns as well as answer any questions you may have.