Many women have embraced “natural” or “bioidentical” hormones to treat their hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms over the more traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) offered by pharmaceutical companies. But bioidentical treatments are not without controversy.
The idea of bioidentical hormones is to create compounds from natural sources that are chemically matched to a woman’s own hormones. Bioidentical hormones are made, or “compounded” by specialized pharmacists using plant products such as soy or yam. The hormones are incorporated into various forms including creams, lotions, patches and pills.
Proponents believe these compounds are more safe and effective than the man-made hormones provided in standard HRT. These claims are largely countered in a recent on line article published on the EndocrineToday website that summarizes the history of bioidentical hormones and reviews the published scientific evidence.
“What women want is individualized care. What bioidentical hormones promise is tailored hormone therapy,” according to JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD of the Midlife Health Center at the University of Virginia who is quoted in the article. Most scientific experts believe that bioidentical hormones may be effective in some cases but are no better than standard HRT and may present their own unique sets of health risks, according to the article.
There have been no large-scale studies comparing bioidentical hormones to standard HRT, so it’s difficult to know the benefits or pitfalls of these hormones. “My mottos is, ‘In God we trust.’ In everyone else, show me the data,” adds Michael Cirigliano, M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
In his own review of the scientific literature on bioidentical hormones, Dr. Cirigliano found little evidence to support the use of bioidentical hormones. He concluded in an article published in the Journal of Women’s Health that the current “scientific uncertainties associated with compounded bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) make their use less preferable to that conventional hormone therapy.”