Handling Hormonal Imbalance with Hormone Supplements: Synthetic, Bioidentical or Neither?
Women. We are all unique in our own ways. But there is one thing we can agree on. Hormonal imbalance sucks. How you deal with it is as personal as your preference in diet or exercise.
When we hit mid-life, we women gain clarity, confidence, and wisdom. We also have to duke it out with our hormones. After decades of monthly cycles, PMS, pregnancy, childbirth…you’d think we would be off the hook with hormonal ups and downs. Oh no, the fun has only begun.
Then again, you may get through perimenopause relatively unscathed, though most women report at least a little discomfort. Even if you’ve never had a cramp or hormonal mood swing in your life, you can still get walloped with unexpected (and unwanted) pre-menopausal symptoms.
The symptoms of hormonal imbalance go well beyond hot flashes and mood swings. Anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, digestive issues, and headaches are all common complaints too, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you have yet to hit perimenopause and this all sounds like one hot mess, here’s a bit of advice I wish someone had given me – prepare yourself for the inevitable change and the symptoms it may be bringing with it.
None of us knows exactly when “the change” will occur, nor what particular symptoms it will bring. But getting clear on which approach you plan to take and arming yourself with some knowledge will help to fend off the insecurity and overwhelm this time can cause.
You may think the only options out there for peri and menopausal symptoms are hormonal supplements. And you’ve likely heard of the controversy surrounding traditional hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) from the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) which pretty much struck fear in the heart of every woman nearing 40.
The study basically showed that women taking synthetic hormones which contain pregnant horse mare urine, otherwise known as Premarin or Prempro, were more prone to breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Not only are our hormones not identical to horses (duh) but research has shown mares used for these drugs, and their foals, are not always treated well. These days we know more about hormonal supplementation and our options.
Bioidentical hormones are made to replicate the hormones our body produces naturally. These tend to have fewer side effects and seem to be better at treating symptoms. The key is in figuring out where you are low with the help of your doctor. But there are other options to consider first.
Dr. Sara Gottfried is an OB/GYN on a mission. Rather than simply prescribing a common synthetic hormone to patients who come into her office dealing with perimenopausal symptoms, Dr. Gottfried takes a multistep approach.
First, is your diet and lifestyle supporting you through this transition? Are you eating whole foods or cramming in junk? Getting adequate sleep or burning the midnight oil in an attempt to get it all done? Taking time to enjoy yourself and meditate or burning the candle at both ends (and down to the nub)? Fixing these issues can put you on the road to feeling better quickly.
If you are doing all of the healthy lifestyle steps listed above and feeling no reprieve, Dr. Gottfried feels certain nutritional supplements may help. There are many vitamin, adaptogens, and other herbal supplements that help some women with their symptoms. Talk to your doctor about adding these to your diet.
Or maybe you are ready for some hormonal supplementation. Bioidentical hormones can be tailored to the individual, not a one size fits all like synthetic hormones. Most doctors prescribe bioidentical hormones in the smallest dose possible to start with the idea of using them for a short time, just until the patient feels better.
I was very resistant to try any type of hormone, bio or not. My Mom died of cancer after years of taking Prempro and these didn’t fit in with my lifestyle. Diet changes and experimenting with natural supplements helped for a while, but when digestive issues set in I was willing to try (almost) anything. My doctor suggested a bioidentical progesterone and I knew after taking the first dose that this was what my body was lacking. I signed on for three months of the medication and after that, we shall see.
If your doctor is not on board with bioidenticals or other alternative therapies (mine fully dismissed the diet connection, which I totally disagree with) it may be time to look for a new doctor. In the meantime, two super helpful resources on the subject are “The Hormone Cure” by Dr. Sara Gottfried and “The Wisdom of Menopause” by Dr. Christiane Northrup.
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