Dealing with the symptoms of menopause is never easy. It may feel like you are plugging holes: treating symptoms that can include hot flashes or itching and staying on top of your emotional well-being.
“Literally one moment you’re fine, and then another, you feel like you’re in a vat of boiling water, and you feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you.” – Kim Cattrall
You have probably tried just about everything on your quest to manage this new phase of life. Perhaps you heard about hormone therapy from a friend or doctor and considered learning more.
Becoming more knowledgeable about hormone therapy will allow you to consider the choices available and make the best choice for you and your symptoms.
Who Hormone Therapy Helps
Hormone therapy is regularly used to treat the symptoms of menopause using one or two main hormones (estrogen and progesterone). These therapies work to balance your estrogen levels within a healthy limit. Those experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, moodiness, or low sex drive can find relief through hormone therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It is also important to note that hormone therapy is valuable for those in perimenopause or those who have hysterectomies as their estrogen levels may also be unbalanced. If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, hormone therapy might be able to afford you some relief.
Natural Vs. Bioidentical Vs. Synthetic Hormones
Before we can dive in to the specifics of hormone therapy, some key terms must first clarified. Recently, synthetic vs. natural products have garnered a great deal of attention. You might be thinking of discussions about food, make-up, or packaging but this discussion applies to hormones as well. And when it comes to hormones, knowing the difference between therapies is critical. According to the Harvard Journal of Medicine, there are three types of hormones used in hormone therapy:
- Natural Hormones – Any product whose principal ingredients have an animal, plant or mineral source.
- Bioidentical Hormones – hormones that are identical in molecular structure to the hormones women make in their bodies.
- Synthetic Hormones – Hormones that have slightly different molecular structures to the hormones they replicate but have the same effect on your body.
While these definitions are fairly straight-forward, they are often used interchangeably, confusing many, if not most of us. Bioidentical hormones are commonly referred to as “natural” hormones because they are typically made from natural materials and because they match our hormone’s natural chemical structure. However, some synthetic hormones are made with animal sources, meaning they are technically “natural” as well. Additionally, bio-identical hormones are technically “synthetic” because they are made in laboratories. Confused yet?
There is a simple solution to this confusion; avoid using the term “natural hormones” and instead stick with bioidentical and synthetic when working with a specialist.
Once you understand the different types of hormones used in hormone therapy, you should become aware of the delivery methods. There are a variety to choose from, and each has its pros and cons:
- Topical creams or gels
- Vaginal suppositories
- Nasal Sprays
No matter which option you choose, keep in mind – bioidentical hormones are typically delivered through patches, creams, and gels; synthetic hormones are chiefly delivered through a pill.
If you can’t decide which option to choose, ask yourself a few questions: Which delivery method works for me? Which fits my lifestyle?
Ultimately, it will be up to you and your doctor to determine the hormone therapy just right for you.
Benefits & Side Effects
Estrogen therapy can ease the side effects of menopause (or perimenopause) and decrease your risk of heart disease, colon cancer, and osteoporosis according to the Mayo Clinic. There is even some evidence to suggest that hormone therapy can tighten your skin and prevent wrinkles (although these claims aren’t fully substantiated).
“Hormones get no respect. We think of them as the elusive chemicals that make us a bit moody, but these magical little molecules do so much more.” – Susannah Cahalan
On the flip side, there are some hormone therapy side affects you should be aware of such as headaches, nausea, mood swings, and irregular bleeding, according to MedlinePlus. In the past there was some concern that estrogen hormone therapies could increase your risk of endometrial, breast, and ovarian cancers, but those claims have since been disproven according to Medical News Today. Thank goodness!
Really, estrogen hormone therapy is just like any other form of medication; take your medicine as prescribed and if symptoms worsen or you start to feel ill, reach out to your doctor.
Where to Go from Here
While it may seem that you are never able to escape the symptoms of menopause, with the right tools, you can get back to feeling like yourself again. If hormone therapy is something you’d like to try, reach out to your doctor today.