What does BIOIDENTICAL really mean?
Since January there has been a considerable amount of media coverage about hormones. Oprah alone did three separate shows devoted to hormone replacement therapy that greatly peaked women’s interest about the field of holistic medicine and its benefits. This in turn generated a favorable Wall Street Journal article about hormone replacement therapy, and the stories kept coming.
At our free Holistic Orientation class in mid-February, the media effect was noticeable as women asked many questions about hormones, such as: “What does bioidentical mean? Are they natural? Are they synthetic? Where do bioidentical hormones come from? What is the difference between estrogens at Rite Aid versus compounding pharmacies? Which is better?”
We answered these great questions that night, but I also wanted to share them with you.
What does bioidentical mean?
Bioidentical means the structure of the hormone you are taking exactly matches what your body produces. They are the most natural hormones available to women because the chemical structure mirrors precisely what is made in your ovary, adrenal or thyroid. There are no extra chemical groups hanging off various sites of the molecule that ever so slightly tweak the function of the drug as in synthetic hormones. Natural, or bioidentical, hormones cannot be patented. That’s why there is little interest in them from the pharmaceutical companies — bioidentical hormones have a low profit margin.
Are bioidentical hormones natural?
This is a question that always generates some angst from women considering hormone therapy. The answer is no, they are not natural. All hormones — compounded, patented, or synthesized — are made from various sources in a lab. Usually these are plant-based sources like yams or soy.
For example, there are no ovarian donors who give up their ovaries in order for natural hormones to be extracted from them. It also stands to reason that you cannot mash up a yam and place it on your leg to get rid of your hot flashes. The yam has to go to the lab and be crafted into estradiol or other hormones in order to be recognized and utilized by your body.
So, it is a semantics issue. Bioidentical hormones are derived from a natural source then developed into the same compound your body makes; for example, estrogen or progesterone from the ovary, and dhea from the adrenal gland.
Bioidentical hormone differences
Because of women’s demand for healthier lifestyles after menopause, pharmaceutical companies have made available at commercial pharmacies multiple bioidentical estrogen drugs and one bioidentical progesterone. Prescription drugs such as Vivelle-dot, Divigel, Evamist and Prometrium are bioidentical and also commercially available. The advantage to using these is that some insurance companies will cover part of the expense. The advantage to using a compounding pharmacy is more dosing flexibility, cost savings and different delivery systems to combat various side effects.
I applaud Oprah for taking hormone replacement therapy mainstream, and helping to neutralize critics who’ve done a lot of damage with data from drugs that are not bioidentical. Our medical center has seen an increase in bioidentical hormone replacement patients since the Oprah shows, and I am thrilled that more women will be enjoying its benefits.
Women are living an average of 30 years after menopause, so quality of life is paramount for the golden years to be truly golden.
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