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At some point every woman faces the inevitable onset of menopause and all that this aging rite of passage entails. And if you’re approaching or already in this stage of womanhood yourself, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT can provide relief from many of the most common postmenopausal symptoms, including night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, irritability, and osteoporosis.
As women grow older, their bodies produce increasingly fewer sex hormones, which are necessary for sustaining optimal physiological function and health. Without these hormones, women’s bodies lose their youthfulness and begin to break down. Hence the potential need for hormone replacement therapy to minimize this loss in vitality.
However, depending on who you talk to, HRT is either a godsend or a curse for the long-term health and well-being of menopausal women. The reason for this is that there is a lot of confusion out there about HRT. Many women aren’t being told by their doctors that there are two types of hormone treatments available to them: natural bioidentical HRT, and synthetic drug-based HRT.
One serves as a safe and effective way for menopausal women to feel younger while reducing their risk of heart disease and breast cancer. The other actually elevates women’s risk of chronic illness later in life. Unfortunately this distinction is hardly ever addressed publicly. Conventional medicine seems to reject the preferable option of bioidentical HRT, or at the very least lumps it into the same category as synthetic HRT in terms of its risks.
Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy versus Bioidentical HRT
The truth is that bioidentical hormones are safer and more effective because they are exact replicas of the hormones that a woman’s body produces naturally during her younger years. Synthetic hormones, on the other hand, are structurally and actively different from women’s natural hormones. This is why the body treats them as foreign invaders.
Understanding the difference between the two is important because HRT often gets a bad rap in the media. Many mainstream doctors claim that the extended use of HRT increases women’s risk of breast cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis (artery hardening), and more. And this claim is valid if we’re talking about synthetic HRT drugs like Premarin, Prempro, and Provera, the three most popular HRT drugs on the market today.
But bioidentical hormones don’t present these same risks because they’re compositionally equivalent to natural female hormones, which are responsible for energy production, weight regulation, brain function, and so much more. Bioidentical hormones can also help reduce women’s risk of breast cancer and other health conditions.
Synthetic HRT drugs have been shown to have the opposite effect, which is why they have become the subject of controversy in recent years. Women who take synthetic HRT are at elevated risk for having a heart attack or stroke, and studies have shown that these medications actually promote the growth of breast cancer cells.
Why Women Need Natural Progesterone, the “Master” Female Hormone
One of the negative effects of menopause is the dramatic decline in progesterone. Progesterone is a “master” female hormone that serves as a precursor to other female sex hormones like estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Each of these hormones falls into the general estrogen category, yet actually serves a unique biological function in women’s health. Of note for this discussion, estriol is a “weaker” estrogen that does not cause cell proliferation, and can actually be cancer protective as it balances the cell proliferation effects of estrone and estradiol.
This loss in progesterone is why many women entering menopause suffer from mood swings and premenstrual symptoms (PMS). But progesterone is also responsible for maintaining bone health and protecting against cancer, including both endometrial and breast cancers. It also helps in modulating brain chemistry, normalizing blood clotting, and regulating thyroid function.
Progesterone is the key “nutrient” that women’s bodies need to stay healthy. Yet the natural form of it is nowhere to be found in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved lineup of HRT drugs. Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate) and Premarin (a combination of estrogen hormones derived from horses), two of the leading HRT drugs commercially available, mimic some of the effects of progesterone, but they aren’t actually progesterone.
Studies have shown that these progesterone imitators lack many of the benefits of the real thing, and can actually exacerbate the symptoms of menopause over time. At least 13 studies reveal that non-bioidentical HRT drugs like progestin (medroxyprogesterone), a synthetic version of progesterone, work against women’s bodies by elevating their risk of breast cancer. And the medroxyprogesterone can actually make those cancers more aggressive and deadlier.
The well-publicized Women’s Health Initiative study evaluating the effects of synthetic HRT drugs like progestin actually had to be terminated early due to the fact that these chemicals were failing to protect women against heart disease, while increasing their risk of heart attack and cancer!
Natural progesterone, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Studies have confirmed that bioidentical progesterone greatly reduces women’s risk of developing breast cancer. This is because natural progesterone acts as an antagonist to estrogen. Estrogen causes cancer cells to rapidly grow and not die, whereas progesterone causes cell reproduction to cease, and cells to die (apoptosis).
One study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, followed more than 80,000 postmenopausal women using different forms of HRT for more than eight years. Researchers found that women who used estrogen in conjunction with bioidentical progesterone did not experience an increased risk of breast cancer and actually saw a decrease in risk (again, this is due to the balancing effects of estrogen and progesterone).
Skip the Synthetic Hormones and Choose Natural Hormones
Other studies have come to similar conclusions with regards to cardiovascular health, brain health, and other forms of cancer − natural progesterone and estrogen, and bioidentical hormones at large, tend to reduce women’s risk of disease while minimizing the negative effects of aging. Synthetic HRT drugs, in contrast, increase the risk of disease. Non-bioidentical progestin is not only not protective, it significantly increases estrogen-stimulated breast cell replication and growth.
“A thorough review of the medical literature clearly supports the claim that bioidentical hormones have some distinctly different, often opposite, physiological effects to those of their synthetic [non-bioidentical counterpart] hormones,” says Dr. Kent Holtorf, MD, an expert in anti-aging medicine and bioidentical hormones.
“With respect to the risk for breast cancer, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, substantial scientific and medical evidence demonstrates that bioidentical hormones are safer and more efficacious forms of HRT than commonly used synthetic versions.”
Just to be clear… while bioidenticals are a helpful tool to balance hormones, they do not correct the reasons for imbalance. Stress and other lifestyle issues impair the hormone progesterone and raise estrogen.
Thus while taking bioidentical hormones will bring relief from symptoms and can be cancer protective, addressing the cause is always a good idea. Reducing stress and increasing intake of vitamins B6, C, and E, resveratrol, selenium, and garden herbs such as sage and oregano can help boost the production of progesterone. Flaxseed, pumpkin seed, green tea, and button mushrooms help naturally curtail the production of aromatase, the pre-cursor to estrogen.
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HRT can provide relief from many of the most common postmenopausal symptoms, including night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, irritability, and osteoporosis.
Many women aren’t told by their doctor that there are two types of hormone treatments available to them: natural bioidentical HRT, and synthetic drug-based HRT.
Bioidentical hormones are safer and more effective because they are exact replicas of the hormones that a woman’s body produces naturally during her younger years. Synthetic hormones are structurally and actively different from women’s natural hormones.
Studies have confirmed that bioidentical progesterone greatly reduces women’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Researchers found that women who used estrogen in conjunction with bioidentical progesterone actually saw a decreased risk of breast cancer.
While bioidenticals are a helpful tool to balance hormones, they do not correct the reasons for imbalance. Stress and other lifestyle issues impair hormone progesterone and raise estrogen.
I’ve been on the Wiley Protocol for years and it works well. One would need to find a compounding pharmacy that makes it.
Anna Kathrine Ljøgodt says
I personally got hormone sensitive cancer (estrogen and progestreone receptor positive) after using bioidentical hormones for 5 years, so even if bioidentical hormones have many benefits and seem to be safer than the syntetic forms, one should always consider genetics, detox pathways, lifestyle etc.before deciding for HRT. Dr Anna Kathrine Ljøgodt
What exactly were you using ? Cream ? And was is both estrogen and progesterone
Hi, although I would love to be on the natural estrogen’s, it almost impossible for those of us who have had a complete hysterectomy. They use to have the 3 compounded estrogenes, the 80-20-20; well when they took the one estrogene out it doesn’t work. I wish there was something I could do? But when you have had a compete hysterectomy your at their mercy. If you know of something please let me know and progesterone cream does not work if you had a hysterectomy because it stimulates the uterus and I do not have one. Please help!
I had a total hysterectomy about 34 years ago and was on Premarin from that time on until I read an article in a magazine about HRT causing a 35% increase to cancer so I quit taking them. My Dr. argued with me that that study was done on a different type, but I argued and refused saying they all came from the same lab. This was about 10 years ago. Yea, I went through some hot flashes but after about a year or so, they went away just as they normally would. I do not take anything at all. I did try a hormonal cream that came from the Chiro I was seeing and it did not help me at all either. I don’t feel that it aged me any faster! I’m 58 years old and look like I’m in my mid 40’s. I’m not a Dr. and don’t really know how much it has effected my system, but I feel fine! I don’t have problems with irritability or anything out of the normal. The way I looked at it is that our body is going to go through it naturally anyway, so just go with it. I did joke with my husband and told him that I might start growing some chest and facial hair and my clit might grow but he would just have to deal with it! LOL Non of that happened! I feel fine!
thanks for your positive and funny comment. it is a proven fact that people with a good sense of humor and who are positive lead far healthier lives than those who do not embody and enact those principles of living…. Be Well !
Anthony Montalto says
How about Men?
Urologist are quick to get men on the drugs to reduce the male hormone testostrome.
What is the natural way to reduce that hormone if it is the the reason behind mens prostate cancer.
I have read pro and con. Which is the correct treatment.
Read Stay Young & Sexy by Jonathan Wright MD to answer all.
It is really good information, but I would have liked to see a list of the natural hrt you can take. I would love to find something that diminishes the hot flashes and night sweats. I’ve had a complete hysterectomy and been off hrt for several years now.
Good info…but would like more in depth comments of personal experiences
In addition to taking substantial doses of vitamin D 3, for the past 10 years I’m also on BHRT. I read many research articles and feel confident that the naturally compounded hormones are protective, and have helped me to live a much better quality of life. I didn’t mention it in my first post because it is so controversial. That is largely due to the misinformation that is out there. I also believe that my original breast cancer, stage 1, was caused by the synthetic HRT..
I also believe mine was caused 10 year use of synthetic hormones. I had no history of any cancer in my family, odd that I am the only one that uses HRT and the only one who ended up with it.
I too got breast cancer after using bio identical hormone therapy from a compound pharmacy for several years. I was a person who took care of myself, no sugar, processed foods, etc…so i attribute my cancer to the HRT.
my understanding is technically both forms of HRT are “synthetic” –one is from a mare’s urine and the other ‘natural” or bio identical is still produced in a lab but made to be identical to the chemical make up of hormones our body produces –these are from plant sources mainly
Patricia stott says
I developed Lobular estrogen and progesterone sensitive breast cancer in 2013
The suituation was noticed in 2000,,,Maybe in situ,I can only speculate.
I was not educated fully by UK health or Portuguese health ,where I have lived since 2006,it is my experience that the product named as natural
Progesterone may have contributed as did estrogen to my condition,also Mammagrams and biopsy I believe released the cancer cells into my breast as a kinder thickening rather than a lump.
I have had the conventional treatment,part of which resulted in febrile neutropenia! Another Horrid life experience,no way would I have had the mental strength to opt for natural combatting,but now I would not want anyone to believe that chemo is beneficial to health it ain’t! And radiotherapy lives under a cloak of mystery,I saw some very sobering sights in the unit I was assigned,I don’t believe it was in the patients interest.
Sadly to take the bold step of natural treatment is not what your loved ones want,they go with whatever???????? cos the public is not concerned until
Education education can only do so much! The food and drugs industry is lamentable, but highly profitable! If you get sick you don’t feel like taking on these giants or your family ,,,you just want to go with what might cure! Hopefully the 30 plus age group can be saved by their brains to get out of eating crap food and having to be super efficient at everything,I really wish them well and also Mr. Ty,,,
What were you exactly using ? I am using prog cream and after reading these comments it’s scary.
Melissa Oborne says
I also was on bioidential HT for 5 years before I developed Stage II breast cancer and had a bi-lateral mastectomy. I don’t really know the cause, but believe I should have landed on the side of caution and foregone the treatment. I also believe it is not for everyone.
Were you on estrogen and progesterone ?
Judith Volpe says
Hormones are hormones and estradiol [ especially when combined with progesterone ] can cause breast cancer. The reason it seems safer is that most practitioners load women with testosterone and give very little estrogen. Bi-est and tri-est are mostly estriol which is a waste product found in urine. Dr. Wright’s assertion that estriol is the predominant estrogen is just plain wrong, that remark is only true in the pregnant woman where its produced by the placenta. I was trained as a pathologist and practiced BHRT for 25 years.
Judith, who would you recommend as a good resource for dosing methods with BHRT?
Debra Goodwin says
I was using Tri-est for 18 months when my tumor appeared in my right breast. I don’t trust bio-identical any more than Tamoxifen! The compounding pharmacist would not answer my questions about the influence Tri-Est had on the breast cancer and the prescribing doctor told me to get off it immediately once I was diagnosed. My tumor took 10 years tomforms, but the bio-identical helped it grow faster (or so Inwas told)
There is a third way … letting Nature takes its course, as women have done for thousands of years. It has served me well.
Good for you. I haven’t slept right for months. Trying to maintain composure while at work with customers is getting tougher and tougher. Hot flashes are ruling my life. I have roughly 20 yrs left of work before retirement. Oh and barely any sex drive. I’m ready for drugs!!!!
elaine jones says
I have suffered severe symptoms of menopause, night sweats, memory not as good as it was, depression and sex is out of the question since having breast cancer at the age of 45 almost 13 years ago. I have had to leave my job and my marriage has suffered all because I have not been allowed any medication, I wish I had known about this all those years ago, my life has been miserable!
Just wonder if anyone used a Wellsprings Serenity progesterone cream…please share your experience.
I used this product for a long time having been sold on the story. But I soon started suffering with insomnia. I didn’t put two and two together until I read other women who were using this product complaining of the same thing. I stopped using the product and started sleeping better, and there was little or no difference in my hot flushes.
The thing that made the biggest difference in cooling them down was when I started eating sprouted red clover and alfalfa seeds (look them up with a Google search). I just added a handful of them to a daily salad or sandwich and soon felt almost back to normal. I carried on like that for a couple of years, and now I never suffer from hot flushes.
Wow! I am so scared right now! I just started on a bio – Identical Therapy from a local compound pharmacy last October and these comments have me rethinking it! UGH!
I have been diagnosed very early menopause. I am now 44 and have started it when 40. The doct in Italy put me on a light pill. When I moved to UK last year they said they do not use the pill for menopause but the HRT. Considering my young age and the pros and cons where for HRT. Does someone have a better suggestion? Thanks Paola
Google. Dzlogic.com. Physiology team of Drs
They use bio/identical hormones as treatment
I was on an estrogen patch…. low dose for five years after hysterectomy. I was diagnosed with stage for breast cancer. Her2 triple positive. I know it was from the HRT. Do your self a favor and let nature take its course. Breast cancer sucks more than a few hot flashes.
I was diagnosed with a stage 0 DCIS in 2011 after 12 years on conventional HRT (had total hysterectomy 12 years earlier). I had bilateral mastectomy at that time and my doctors told me I had only a 3% chance of recurrence even if I continued HRT… so that’s what I did. After 6 years eating a pristine diet( no sugar, ketogenic etc.) My breast cancer returned this time her2 positive. A naturopathic doctor recommended I remove all hormones and take Tegaran. It works by occupying hormone receptor sights on cells so that your own hormones can no longer feed cancer. It is pricey but a God send for hot flashes. I also switched to total plant based diet. Fish is the only meat I eat … this has had a huge impact in reducing hot flashes as well as Qigong, which balances hormones. A good night’s sleep was a more difficult challenge and for that the only thing that helped was 6 mg of melatonin and CBD without THC, which has helped with pain issues as well as helping fight cancer. Hope this helps.
tegaran- is this the correct spelling? can you drop a link to what this is…?
Great article, thank you very much, not every girl understands how important the role played by hormones in the human body and what consequences can lead to a harmonious imbalance.
I regret taking HRT now that I’ve had early stage 1A estrogen/progesterone sensitive BC and at the post surgery stage. I didn’t research it enough or look at the statistics.
Kyla McArdle says
I am a 2 1/2 year triple negative breast cancer survivor… I was diagnosed at 43, have double mastectomy, 8 rounds of 3 different chemos and am in complete menopause, had my ovaries removed. I suffer from severe hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, memory loss, absolutely no sex drive (haven’t had sex with my husband in almost 3 years since diagnosis).. Cancer and menopause has ruined my life… I think my quality of life sucks and would be willing to try bioidentical HRT
total tclinic says
hey awesome information
Derrick Dunn says
The longer a woman uses hormone replacement therapy, the greater is the possibility of suffering from breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer will get disappeared within a year, if you stop taking HRT. To reduce the risk of cancer, hormone replacement therapy has to be used after surgery. Tamoxifen, Fareston- are the drugs that you can take to block estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells. Faslodex → is also known as SERD(Selective Estrogen Receptor Degrader) acts as an anti-estrogen throughout the body. Look- not all kinds of HRT causes breast cancer. You need to pick the right one in order to stay safe from getting affected by breast cancer.