While there are over 200 hormones in the body – estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, leptin, and thyroid hormones are the most commonly known and closely linked to metabolism, fertility, mood, and other vital functions. Changes in hormone production, such as under- or over-production, or interferences in signaling pathways contribute to the development of hormonal imbalances, which can lead to diabetes, weight gain, infertility, and other health concerns if not managed appropriately. Sudden weight fluctuations or changes in energy levels can signal hormonal abnormalities, as can muscle aches and weakness, joint inflammation, and increased temperature sensitivity. There are many possible causes of hormonal imbalances, such as medications, tumors, and underlying health conditions; diet-related hormonal fluctuations, including those spurred by eating disorders, are also prevalent and underscore the connection between the endocrine system and eating patterns.
The field of hormone replacement therapies, and in particular bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), has received considerable attention in recent years as it may offer a potential natural alternative treatment for hormonal balances affecting both men and women. While BHRT has been most commonly prescribed for the treatment of menopause symptoms, it can also be used to improve symptoms related to cancer treatment, insulin resistance, thyroid disorders, and many other health conditions. The use of this therapeutic method is increasing in popularity as awareness of the natural alternative grows and patient preferences continue to change.
The Benefits of BHRT
Chemically identical to hormones produced by the body, bioidentical hormones are derived from plant estrogens and come in a variety of forms including pills, gels, and injections that allow for ease of use that strengthens treatment adherence. BHRT is often prescribed as patients age and their hormone levels begin to decrease, especially in the case of women who enter perimenopause or menopause to improve the moderate-to-severe symptoms associated with this transition. Furthermore, hormone replacement therapies have been found to reduce the risk for diabetes, tooth loss, as well as cataracts while potentially improving skin thickness, hydration, and elasticity. For post-treatment cancer patients with decreased estrogen levels, BHRT has shown efficacy in improving general wellbeing and overall quality of life; it may also alleviate some treatment-related symptoms such as migraines and insomnia.
Nonetheless, this class of therapeutics has been tied to side effects with current research showing that hormone replacement therapy in general may increase the risk of certain conditions including blood clots, stroke, heart disease, and breast cancer. Additionally, BHRT therapy has been associated with acne, bloating, weight gain, fatigue, and mood swings as common side effects, which may deter some patients from the treatment. The risks and potential for side effects should be evaluated on an individual basis as they vary among women depending on their health history.
Compounded Bioidentical Hormones and FDA Regulation
Custom made by pharmacies per physicians’ orders, compounded bioidentical hormones typically include ingredients combined or altered to meet the specific needs of an individual patient. While such formulations may be effective when tailored correctly, it is important to note that the FDA has not approved any custom-compounded bioidentical hormone therapies to date. Also, many bioidentical hormones are manufactured and sold with limited safety, quality, and purity controls. As such, clinicians are encouraged to maintain caution in prescribing compounded bioidentical hormones.
To safely and effectively prescribe bioidentical hormone replacement therapies and other similar therapeutics, clinicians are invited to join the upcoming Women’s Hormones online course taking place from October 5-17, 2021, expertly designed to build clinical confidence and prepare practitioners for any patient scenario.
The growing importance of hormonal health is becoming an integral component of modern medicine especially as the focus shifts toward maintaining and boosting immunocompetence in the population. Many plausible benefits of hormonal factors on autoimmunity have received growing attention in recent years from the scientific community. Research has been conducted investigating the relationship between immune system function and sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.
Importantly, the immune systems of men and women are known to function differently with 80% of autoimmune diseases occurring in women who tend to show stronger immune responses than their male counterparts. Stronger immune responses in women produce faster pathogen clearance and improved vaccine responsiveness while also contributing to their increased susceptibility to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.