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Bioidentical Hormones vs. Synthetic Hormones: What’s the Difference?

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You and your doctor have both decided that hormone therapy is the best treatment option for you, but now you are faced with an even tougher decision – which type of hormones should you choose: bioidentical or synthetic?

Continued research has helped to enhance the understanding of hormone therapy over the last two decades. The medical community has come to recognize hormone therapy as a safe and effective treatment option for the symptoms of aging, especially common conditions like menopause and low testosterone. But there are some significant differences between bioidentical hormone therapy and traditional (synthetic) hormone therapy that may influence your decision. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed choice in favor of better health.

Your Hormones

Since you are considering hormone therapy, you already know that hormones are chemical messengers that attach to receptors all over the body, keeping multiple aspects of your body functioning properly. Hormones affect everything from energy levels and sleep patterns to body composition and sex drive. When one—or worse—multiple hormones fall out of balance, your health and quality of life can take a tumble.

What are bioidentical hormones?

Although the use of bioidentical hormone therapy is a fairly new concept, bioidentical hormones actually date back to the 1930s, about the same time that synthetic hormones emerged. Bioidentical hormones are hormones derived from plants, such as soy or yams. Because of their more natural composition, bioidentical hormones are designed to be structurally identical to the hormones naturally produced by the human body. This allows them to act on the receptors in the same manner as the body’s natural hormones, thereby keeping your body systems functioning properly.

What are the differences between bioidentical and synthetic hormones?

Synthetic hormones are derived from animal sources, namely the urine of female horses. These hormones can act on the receptors in the human body, but the structural differences can lead to functional issues. Synthetic hormones often bind too tightly to specified receptors, causing overstimulation. This action inhibits the body’s natural metabolic process and can make discontinuing use of these types of hormones riskier.

Bioidentical hormones, unlike synthetic hormones, may be custom-compounded into doses recommended by your doctor to meet your individual needs. This unique feature is the reason many forms of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy are not patented and regulated by the FDA. On the other hand, some bioidentical hormone formulations have been found to work ideally at an established dose and these have been patented by manufacturers and approved by the FDA.

Companies synthesizing traditional hormones develop proprietary formulations so the drugs may be patented and are difficult to replicate. This feature makes it easier for the FDA to regulate.

Making the decision to use hormone replacement therapy – whether traditional or bioidentical – is a personal choice. Discussing your options with your doctor is an important first step, but meeting with a physician that specializes in hormones and hormone therapy can also help you better evaluate your options. A specialist uses advanced diagnostic testing to assess your hormone levels, while also considering your symptoms, medical history and how you have been personally affected by your symptoms. This comprehensive outlay can ensure you have all the information to make the best decision for your health.

Finding the Right Physician

Seek a physician that specializes in hormones and hormone therapy. While your primary care physician can offer guidance, he or she may not have advanced training and therefore might have limited experience with treating hormonal imbalance. Getting a second opinion from a specialist can give you a much clearer picture of all your options and the risk-to-reward ratio.


BodyLogicMD. Explaining Bioidentical Hormones. Web. June 1, 2015. https://www.bodylogicmd.com/bioidentical-hormones

Mayo Clinic. Are “bioidentical” or “natural” hormones safer and more effective than hormones used in traditional hormone therapy for menopause symptoms? Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, MD. Web. June 1, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/expert-answers/bioidentical-hormones/faq-20058460

Medscape. Individualizing Hormone Therapy to Minimize Risk- Abstract. Donna Shoupe. Web. June 1, 2015. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/747269_01

Medscape. Individualizing Hormone Therapy to Minimize Risk: Summary for individualizing Hormone Therapy- Start With an Accurate Analysis of the Risks & Benefits. Donna Shoupe. Web. June 1, 2015. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/747269_12

Reviewed June 2, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.