When I made my first visit to my preventive medicine doctor, Dr. Jim McMinn, he ordered thorough blood and saliva tests to determine what areas of my health need improvement. Discussing the results, he pointed to my estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels which were basically nonexistent. As in nada, zero, zip. I said, “But isn’t that to be expected at my age?” He replied, “The newest research finds that the lack of hormones tends to make us age faster, and our quality of life isn’t as good.”
After discussing the pros and cons, he recommended that I start using bioidentical hormones, which are compounded to match the hormones that we aren’t making anymore. They’re different from traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Most of these, including Premarin and Prempro, are made from pregnant mare urine (hence the name Pregnant Mare uRine), bringing in questions of animal cruelty–mares are kept in stalls, pregnant, for most of their lives.
But bioidenticals, made from plants, can have a ton of benefits for those of us who are post-menopausal. Estradiol, a form of estrogen, helps with brain fog, prevents bone loss (hopefully leading to fewer hip fractures), reduces incidences of Alzheimer’s, and may help us live longer. Testosterone improves the libido, and decreases vaginal dryness. (Translation we’ll not only be friskier, but will enjoy sex more. Who can argument with that?) Progesterone is good for your skin and immune system, as well as helping with libido. It also is a natural antidepressant, and helps burn fat. Most importantly for me, anyway, it helps you sleep better. Dr. McMinn wrote a blog entry listing the benefits of bioidentical HRT on his website. Read To Menopause or Not To Menopause here. (Note: his other posts are informative and thought-provoking as well.)
Bioidentical hormone replacement isn’t for everyone, though. I have friends who can’t use hormones because of blood pressure issues or sensitivity to the base used for compounding them. And, frankly, there have not been a lot of studies to prove that bioidenticals are safer than traditional HRT. (I don’t need to remind you that most studies are funded by Big Pharma, and they’re not inclined to support research of non-pharmaceutical products.) But there’s good information at American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, an organization of preventative medicine physicians. You might also check out Suzanne Somers’s book Breakthrough, which has interviews with physicians in the forefront of hormone research.
Cost can be an issue, though. Insurance rarely pays for compounded hormones, which aren’t regulated by the FDA, but it does cover Novartis’s Vivelle dot, a small estrogen patch like I wear. You’re pretty much on your own paying for progesterone cream and capsules and testosterone cream. Also, you’ll need access to a good compounding pharmacy to go bioidentical. I’ve recently learned you can also have hormone pellets inserted under the skin. I don’t know much about them, but understand they’re fairly pricey, again, not covered by insurance. A friend who recently had some inserted reports nearly-immediate improvement in her ability to sleep and to her frame of mind (which is a good thing). As with any medication, you’ll need to monitor how you feel and let your physician know if there are issues. For example, I’m on half the dose of estrogen and testosterone cream originally prescribed by Dr. McMinn.
One thing I can say for certain: bioidentical hormones won’t bring those not-so-desirable aspects of being a woman–menstruation and PMS–back into your life. You may see a recurrence of breast tenderness and vaginitis, and, unless you want to look like my mustachioed Italian great-aunt, you’ll likely need more-frequent lip-waxes. I plan to continue using bioidentical hormones as long as I can still afford them, and I don’t have any ill health affects. They make me feel more energetic and clearer-headed, and, well, friskier.
I’ll be happy to answer any questions–but right now I’m off to the nail salon. I’ll be the one having my lip waxed.