When trying to understand bioidentical hormones and bioidentical hormone therapy (BHRT), it is important to first understand how hormones affect our bodies. Hormone imbalances can cause hot flashes, weight gain, night sweats and numerous other uncomfortable symptoms. Simple lab tests can be performed to identify these imbalances and then design a nutrition and hormone replacement program to bring the levels to normal. The hormones measured include all the ovarian, adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary hormones, including growth hormone. Many hormone creams, pills, and potions on the market are purchased and used indiscriminately. Those who actually require hormone replacement can be given Bioidentical, non-drug formulations that can be filled at a compounding pharmacy. Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy can replace the hormones your body loses with hormones Bioidentical in nature to those you lose. Both women and men can be tested and treated. Bioidentical Hormones vs. Synthetics Bioidentical hormones exactly mimic the structure and function of the hormones inside your body. Bioidentical hormones come from plant sources, and help women rebalance hormone levels in their bodies in a natural way. Synthetic hormone drugs, on the other hand, do not mimic your body's natural hormones. They mainly turn off the symptoms of menopause and andropause rather than rebalancing hormone levels. Recent studies have shown synthetic hormones - specifically estrogen in combination with progesterone - significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. Synthetics provide a one-size-fits-all pill and are often prescribed in combination with sleeping pills and antidepressants, which can slow your metabolism and can cause weight gain.

Three Steps in the Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy Process

Step One: Get a Hormone Analysis. After listening to what you are experiencing, talking with you about your specific situation and answering all of your questions, your health practitioner can conduct a full review of your medical history and order a hormone analysis (from a blood, saliva, or urine sample) to check your hormone levels.

The hormone analysis lab results will give you precise measurements of the following types of hormones: Estrogens: There are three types of estrogen hormones - estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is about 80 times more potent than estriol in its effect on the body. Progesterone: This female sex hormone helps balance estrogen levels and works as a natural diuretic to counter water retention. Testosterone: This hormone has an influence on energy, well-being, and sex drive. Adrenal hormones (cortisol and DHEA): These hormones, called "androgen hormones," help your body deal with stress, but continued high levels of stress can deplete these hormones. When depleted, your adrenal glands will "steal" from your reproductive hormones, making menopause symptoms worse. Thyroid hormones: These hormones affect your energy level and metabolism.

Step 2: Receive Your Recommendations. When your tests are returned from the lab, your health care provider will go over the results with you and write out your hormone prescription. Together you will work out a program. Ideal hormone levels depend on a number of factors including: your height weight genetic inheritance diet metabolic rate daily stress body composition exposure to environmental toxins protein synthesis Other factors - all of which vary from individual to individual. The unique nature of your body means your prescription and program must be tailored specifically to fit you. Although Bioidentical hormones are not drugs, you will need to fill your prescription at a compounding pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy can measure out the precise dosage levels your health practitioner prescribes.

Step 3. Monitor your results and Communicate with Your Health Practitioner. By tracking the effect of the hormones and regularly communicating with your health practitioner, you can begin to adjust the dosage according to the effects you describe. After three months, you should return to your provider for a follow-up hormone analysis to once again measure your hormone levels. This allows you to see what's working and what needs to be improved. It also allows you to move closer toward your ideal levels and communicate your observations directly with your provider. Any situations of unusual stress can throw off your hormone balance. You should contact your provider right away to see if you need to have your hormone levels tested again and have a new prescription prepared.

Natural Solutions Other Than Bioidentical Hormones Not all natural solutions for menopause symptoms involve Bioidentical hormones. If you desire, you can use natural herbs as well. These might include black cohosh, wild yams, lignans, chasteberry, Don Quai, red clover tops, fenugreek seeds, saw palmetto seeds, and others. These herbs contain phyto-chemicals that can help support your hormone levels and hormone-producing glands. Because these herbs contain do not contain true estrogens, they are actually thought to be protective against breast cancer. What causes the symptoms of hormone imbalances? Losing chemical substances that were once natural and common throughout your body throws your body out of balance. These substances regulated and assisted with daily functioning of your body. The hormonal shifts, imbalances, and fluctuations associated with menopause may cause any or all the following: Weight gain Night Sweats Thinning hair Brittle nails Hot flashes Mood Swings Lack of energy Forgetfulness Dryness Insomnia Loss of sex drive Why the weight gain? Fat cells contain an enzyme that creates estrogen - so the body tries to hold onto fat. Weight gain also results from high levels of cortisol. This is because cortisol interferes with insulin, a hormone that converts sugar in your blood to useable energy. Additionally, when your cortisol levels overshadow your DHEA hormones, you lose energy and feel fatigued. Why the insomnia? Sex hormones regulate melatonin, a hormone that controls your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. But when your sex hormone levels drop, the melatonin production increases, throwing off your sleep rhythms as well as encouraging depression. Estrogen also has an impact on your body's temperature regulation. A sudden fluctuation can trigger a hot flash. With mood swings, the culprit here is, once again, imbalanced estrogen levels. Estrogen receptors inside the brain increase neurotransmitter and synapse connectivity. Fluctuations of estrogen can cause neurotransmitters to fire unpredictably, creating seemingly unexplainable mood swings. Imbalanced hormone levels can become increasingly complex, because sometimes the level of a hormone is not as important as its ratio to the other hormones. This is why we talk of "balancing" hormones rather than merely increasing them. Can Men Have Imbalanced Hormones Too? Men lose their hormones too, only not in the dramatic fashion as women do. It may be over a decade that men's bodies produce fewer hormones. Although men don't have ovaries with declining estrogen production, two main causes can deplete men and women's hormones: stress and toxins. Long and stressful work hours combined with environmental pollutants from poor diet and exposure can cause low hormones levels. As a result, you can lose your energy for life. You may become apathetic towards ideas and goals you once earnestly strived to reach, losing your zeal. Low levels of testosterone are also correlated with depression and diminished sex drive. Bioidentical vs. Synthetic HRT Below is a review of the medical literature demonstrating how natural hormones are superior to their synthetic counterparts. The conclusion is clear that bio-identical hormones are a safe alternative to Premarin and Provera. The natural bio-identical hormones are very different from their synthetic versions, often having completely opposite physical and cellular effects. It is critical that men and women be given the information that these natural hormones do not have the negative side effects of the synthetic hormones and in no way pertain to the conclusions reached by the "famous" Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study. Natural hormones are a safe and more conservative approach to hormone replacement therapy that does not carry the risks associated with Premarin and Provera. The great majority of women can rebalance their hormones without the use of drugs. We have found that about 85% can find relief through an approach that combines medical-grade nutritional supplements, gentle endocrine support, and dietary and lifestyle changes. It is recommended that every woman start with this combination approach as a foundation of for restoring hormone health. It is not recommended that any hormones be used long-term unless essential for symptom relief. Even then, they should always be monitored with a complete risk assessment. The idea that Bioidentical hormone therapy should be used indefinitely as some kind of fountain of youth is not widely supported. When you give your body the support it needs it can reset itself, because it's equipped and programmed for balance and wellness. So it is recommended that you always begin with the gentlest form of support possible to alleviate your discomfort and tweak it as you go. It is also imperative that you discuss the importance of good nutrition, supplements, fitness and lifestyle choices in your journey to better health using natural Bioidentical hormones. Eating right and exercising are equally important aspects of anti-aging hormone replacement therapy and these three in combination have show positive results in patients. Most individuals experience benefit with Bioidentical hormones almost immediately. Within several days you will begin to sleep better, and the hot flashes will go away. Weight regulation and lost sex drive will also begin returning to normal. If your hormones are out of balance, your body will not respond optimally to improved nutrition and exercise. As your hormones, nutrition, fitness levels, and lifestyle improve - you should start to feel like your old self again and enjoy improved energy, more longevity, and better overall well-being.

By Dr. Richard A. DiCenso