It sounds great – you feel a bit under the weather, sometimes easily fatigued, or even tired all the time, listless, unmotivated, low mood, emotionally reactive. And you notice that these symptoms are advertised as exemplifying you need some bioidentical hormone replacement.
So you begin to investigate and discover that just some of the bioidentical hormones you can get include:
- all three estrogens (estrone, estradiol and estriol),
- DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone, a precursor to male and female sex hormones – both androgens and estrogens),
- T3 (a thyroid hormone, insulin, even a hormone that controls red blood cell production (erythropoietin).
Not only do you have those choices, but you also can choose a delivery system, such as regular pills or sublingual pills, suppositories, transdermal patches, creams, gels, even troches (they deliver hormones to the mucus membranes of your mouth to avoid the impact of your digestive juices).
Maybe you hear about some celebrity touting bioidentical hormones as the absolute best thing you could possibly do. Maybe your doctor agreements, and you come out of the office with a prescription. Or maybe you pick some up from an over-the-counter or online source.
They must be safe, right? After all, they're advertised as being exactly the same as what your body makes, so they must be okay. You're sophisticated enough to know that because they are bioidentical rather than patented synthetic (such as progestin, for example) that they do not have the dangerous side effects associated with synthetic hormones. And this is true.
You might think the governmental agencies that regulate this sort of thing would outlaw them if they were not safe. And since they are widely available, and becoming more so, that must mean they're safe.
Plus, if you start to use one, you may start feeling better, and that really reinforces the idea that they're safe. Before you reach that conclusion, however, here are some facts to keep in mind:
1. Hormones drive the functioning of every part of your body. Because bioidentical products are actual hormones, they, too, will drive every aspect of your bodily functioning. But when your body makes the hormone, it controls how much is activated, in circulation or deactivated in extremely short time frames – nanoseconds, even. Providing these hormones from an outside source, even when they are bioidentical, bypasses these intrinsic and essential feedback mechanisms, making it extremely difficult to control hormone levels. For this reason it's essential to get frequent hormone testing. Even if you do, however, you can not control the levels the way your body can.
2. Because they substitute for hormones your body produces, when a gland 'reads' whether or not it needs to produce more hormones, it 'sees' the bioidentical ones and concludes that it has enough. Gradually this can lead to the gland itself actually shutting down its own hormone production, and it can be very difficult to get it to 'wake up' again and get back to work. (This is why it can be many months or more before a woman's periods stabilize after she's taken birth control pills.)
3. Prolonged use of bioidentical products can lead over time to exactly the same symptoms that caused you to want to use them in the first place. That's because, when you are continuously flooding your body with these hormones, it ever shuts down its receptor sites. This is likely to motivate you to increase the dose, which is exactly what not to do, as this will only make the situation worse. Instead, you will need to wean yourself off of the product.
4. There are other, untoward effects that can occur. For example, using unbalanced estrogens in hormone replacement promotes iron and copper uptake, which can lead to the development of iron-overload syndrome. (Judith DeCava, CNC, LNC. “Are There Iron Ironies?” In Nutrition News and Views , Vol 9 # 1, Jan / Feb 2005, p. 5 ) This is a condition in which the extra iron is deposited in your spleen and liver. This is a serious condition that can lead to death. Taking thyroid hormone over time causes osteoporosis. The reason is that the white blood cells your spleen produces (monocytes) are supposed to migrate to your bones and mature as osteoblasts (bone building cells). But because their turnover rate is pushed too fast by the thyroid hormone, they do not get a chance to mature and become osteoblasts.
It's always much safer to support your body so it can make its own hormones.