Bioidentical Hormones: Potential Benefits and Risks

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or treatment is presented as a more natural, safe and individualized alternative. Read on to find out how true this is and what the risks are.
Bioidentical Hormones: Potential Benefits and Risks

Last update: 04 November, 2021

Bioidentical hormones are man-made compounds. Some are derived from plants, although experts claim these are similar to those produced by the human body. They’re used to treat patients whose hormone production is below the normal range.

They’re also said to provide several benefits and are more effective as a natural solution. However, studies don’t support these supposed advantages.

In this article, we’ll review all the implications related to bioidentical hormone treatment, explaining what they are, how they work, their benefits, risks, and possible side effects.

Hormone changes and imbalances

Hormones are chemicals produced by different glands in the body. They act as a kind of messenger, telling the other organs how and when to act. Thus, there are hormones for almost every function, from growth and digestion to sex.

Hormonal changes due to illness or the natural stages of life are common. For example, in menopause. When the production of estrogen and progesterone in women is affected, various symptoms can appear.

However, this isn’t exclusive to women, as in men there’s the so-called Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome. And this doesn’t only occur at a certain age, as it also occurs in younger people.

In both sexes, the treatment consists of compensating for what has been lost, by means of hormone replacement therapy. And, in some of these cases, bioidentical hormones are used.

What are bioidentical hormones?

Bioidentical hormones are so named because they’re chemically similar to those produced by the human body. The most commonly replicated and used in hormone treatment are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, although pregnenolone or dehydroepiandrosterone may also be included.

To a large extent, these compounds are man-made or synthetic. And, even when they’re derived from plant products, specifically from plants such as soybeans and yams, they undergo a process of modification in the laboratory.

These bioidentical hormones are purchased ready to use, although others are made by the pharmacist, following the specifications of the treating physician. A distinction must be made between the two, since some of the brand-name or laboratory products have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, while compounds made to order don’t usually go through any type of control.

As for the formats and routes of administration, bioidentical hormones come in pills or tablets, creams or gels, aerosols, patches, injections, pellets (subcutaneous implant), and even vaginal inserts.

Some soya.
Many of the bioidentical hormones on the market, especially estrogen-like hormones, are extracted from soy.

Benefits of bioidentical hormones

Hormone levels in the body tend to decrease as people age. This is particularly seen in women who are in perimenopause. Although the decline may also be due to imbalances due to other factors.

So, as the case may be, bioidentical hormones are used in replacement therapy. To the same extent, such compounds can help deal with the various symptoms related to menopause.

They are also credited with effectiveness in the treatment of insulin resistance, adrenal and thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and cataracts. However, none of these alleged benefits have been proven.

Among the advantages attributed to bioidentical hormones, compared to other approaches, are the lower cost and greater safety, due to the fact that they’re natural. However, these claims aren’t supported by clinical studies either.

Nevertheless, one study found that people with cancer who underwent bioidentical hormone replacement therapy reported symptom relief. These included relief from migraines and insomnia.

Risks of using bioidentical hormones

According to studies, bioidentical hormones haven’t only been shown to not have any advantages, but they also lack oversight from the respective health authorities in terms of the manufacturing process and the compounds that are used.

However, there isn’t any research that specifically states that they’re potentially more dangerous. They aren’t either safe or unsafe. Experts simply urge caution when using them.

Researchers believe that this type of replacement treatment carries the same risks as other forms of hormone therapy. Such potential side effects include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Blurred vision
  • Acne
  • Nipple tenderness
  • Increased facial hair in women
A woman with a tablet.
Consumption of these compounds would be equivalent in adverse reactions to the usual products manufactured by laboratories.

All hormone replacement has risks

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) conducted a large study involving more than 16,000 women aged 50 to 79 years of age. Among the conclusions was that the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke increased somewhat when receiving estrogen and progesterone therapy.

Subsequent analyses and interpretations of the WHI study and other similar work qualified the findings somewhat. The consequence, however, was that many people began to seek alternative treatments. For example, with bioidentical hormones.

These hormones, while they may be an option, aren’t without risk. We recommend that the products you wish to consume are endorsed by a health entity. Also, all treatment should be discussed with your doctor.

In general, we recommend that you don’t use hormone replacement. But, if you decide to use it, then you should take the lowest effective dose for the shortest time possible.

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