Generally speaking, hormones are chemical structures that act like messenger molecules in the body; they help control how cells and organs do their work. From a physiological perspective, bio-identical hormones derived from natural plant sources are identical in chemical structure to those hormones that the body produces for itself, in the right proportions. When replacing the body’s hormones, it makes sense to use entities which the body recognizes as its own, rather than using hormones derived from horses, imbalanced versions, or overly potent synthetic variations.
Bio-identical hormones are derived from natural plant sterols extracted from soybeans and/or Mexican yams. These are taken to a laboratory where they are converted chemically or somewhat synthesized to hormones that are identical and indistinguishable from the body’s own messengers. It is often misconstrued that because bio-identical hormones are being synthesized in a lab that they too are synthetic; however, since bio-identical hormones are derived from plant substances found in soybeans and yams, they are natural in the sense that they are formulated in the lab to be biologically identical in structure and function to hormones produced in the body. Since these plant-based hormones are identical to the hormones produced naturally by the body, the body is able to metabolize them naturally as it was designed to do, with minimal or no risks or side effects. The term, synthetic, is best used to describe those chemically altered hormones that are many times more potent than the natural or bio-identical hormones. Synthetic hormones are intentionally different from what they body produces naturally for the simple reason that drug companies cannot patent a bio-identical structure.
A compounding pharmacy, such as Custom Meds, has the capability of providing bio-identical hormone replacement therapy formulations that meet a patient’s specific healthcare needs. Various dosage forms, including transdermal creams and gels, troches which are lozenges that dissolve between the gum and tongue, oral capsules, vaginal suppositories and others, are available for compounding bio-identical hormones.
It is not a new fact that blood tests for hormone levels are often inaccurate and are no longer the gold standard for testing. A blood test is basically a “snapshot” in time and only shows what the hormone levels happen to be at that exact time of testing. There are many factors, including stress, diet, lifestyle choices and the time of day, that can affect constantly changing hormone levels. Blood, being watery, contains water-soluble or hydrophilic substances; fat-soluble or lipophilic substances are not found in blood. Hormones, such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, are fat-soluble steroids that are small enough to diffuse into tissue easily. When these hormones are measured via blood sample, these chemicals are largely protein-bound, which ultimately means that these hormones are too large to enter the tissues and are therefore not readily bioavailable to receptors in target tissues throughout the body. In fact, only the free or non-protein bound hormones are available to target tissues and to saliva; therefore, sex hormones measured by blood is mostly a measure of those hormones that will not be used by the body. Because the salivary gland is a tissue, a saliva test would be a more accurate test when determining a patient’s true bioavailable hormone levels.
Custom Meds offers test kits specific to your testing needs. Click HERE or call us for more information at 800-226-2023.
Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy primarily focuses on the following hormones: estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.
There are three estrogens found naturally in the body, estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Estradiol (E2) is the most commonly used in BHRT and is the strongest of the three estrogens. While the levels of estrogen rapidly decline during menopause, the incidence of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis and Altzheimer’s disease increases. Supplementation with bio-identical estrogens can protect women against many of the diseases associated with aging. Some of the benefits linked to bio-identical estrogen replacement include protection against age-related diseases, improvement in memory, reduction in menopausal symptoms, improvement in vaginal dryness and protection of the heart and brain vessels.
Progesterone is a hormone that is very important and is often overlooked in BHRT. This hormone can be thought of as a hormonal balancer, especially in regard to estrogens. Furthermore, progesterone serves as a precursor, or substance from which most of the other steroid hormones are derived, including the estrogens and testosterone. Being a natural antidepressant, progesterone helps with all the mood type symptoms that accompany menopause, such as depression, anxiety and mood swings. It is also a natural diuretic that can help rid the body of excess water weight. Natural bio-identical progesterone works synergistically with estrogens in that estrogen is needed to prevent bone loss while progesterone helps to increase bone density and estrogen is necessary to prevent early morning awakening while progesterone aids in falling asleep. Perhaps one of the most important roles of progesterone is it enhances the positive effects of estrogen while preventing the problems associated with estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is characterized by unsafe estrogen tissue levels that can lead to a strong risk for breast cancer and reproductive cancers.
While testosterone is often associated with the male gender, women need testosterone too, just in smaller amounts. Testosterone is responsible for the maintenance of lean body mass, bone density, sex drive, maintaining vaginal lubrication and cardiac health. It is also essential for creating energy, maintaining optimal brain function and memory, regulating the immune system and building and maintaining the integrity of structural tissues such as skin, muscles and bone. Low testosterone levels are often attributed to aging. Chronically low testosterone levels can cause loss of bone and muscle mass, erectile dysfunction, thinning skin, vaginal dryness, low sex libido, incontinence, tiredness, aches and pains, depression and loss of memory.
DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and is often supplemented when low energy, muscle wasting and low sex drive are complaints. Additionally, DHEA is responsible for having direct effects on the immune system.
The aging process is an inevitable phenomenon that every human will experience. Over the course of a lifetime, aging causes a natural decline of hormones and the effects these declines have on the human body vary from person to person.
At the age of 20, hormone levels are at their peak. After this point, hormone levels begin to drop. In the years leading up to menopause, menstrual cycles that were once normal and occurred at the same time each month begin to become erratic. For example, bleeding may be heavier or lighter than usual. These erratic cycles are indicative of erratic ovulation leading to both highs and lows in estrogen and progesterone; this erratic hormonal behavior often leaves a woman feeling like she is on an emotional roller coaster. Other symptoms often accompany the whirlwind of emotions; forgetfulness, foggy thinking, mental confusion, mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, tearfulness, unwanted weight gain and low sex libido tend to be among the most predominant symptoms.
When there is aging, not only is there wear and tear visible on the surface, but there is also degeneration and aging on the inside to our organs, which leads to diminished levels of hormones. Additionally, as we age, the specific receptor sites where hormones bind to exert their action tend to change and become insensitive to the hormones. Whenever there is a decrease in stimulation of the receptor site, only negative consequences will follow; decreased cellular repair, decreased protein synthesis, inability for the cell to regenerate and then a gradual destruction of the cell will ultimately occur. All of these changes trigger the aging process.
When hormone production starts to drop below normal levels in the years leading up to menopause, bio-identical hormones are perhaps the best and safest way for women to supplement. Before the introduction of BHRT, strength, energy and vitality would decline affecting our overall health. With the addition of BHRT, however, energy levels are restored, the physical appearance of aging can be improved, and the symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance can be eradicated. Overall, the primary goals of BHRT are to optimize function, prevent morbidity with aging and enhance quality of life.
And men thought it couldn’t happen to them! The male version of menopause, also known as andropause, is characterized by a gradual decline in testosterone levels accompanied by physiological changes and symptoms. As many as 13 million men in the United States may have low testosterone, and only five to ten percent of these men will seek treatment. Testosterone is an important male hormone essential for maintaining healthy sexual function, energy, mood and body composition.
By the time men hit their 30s, they start to lose testosterone at a rate of one to two percent a year. By the time men are between the ages of 40 and 55, they can begin experiencing symptoms associated with andropause, such as weight gain, irritable male syndrome, sleep apnea, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, reduced sex drive, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, reduced muscle mass, depressed mood, decreased energy, night sweats and gynecomastia (male breasts).
Mental focus, energy, metabolism, muscle mass, fat levels and sex drive are among the areas negatively affected by decreasing testosterone levels. By balancing hormone levels through the use of bio-identical hormone replacement therapy formulations, men can restore their vitality and reduce the symptoms of andropause.
Because patients vary in size, symptoms, and hormone levels, commercially available medications often do not provide appropriate dosage strength for the adequate relief of menopausal symptoms. Through compounding, however, a physician and pharmacist can customize a BHRT regimen to meet the patient’s specific needs. Development of transdermal creams capable of supporting multiple medications while enhancing penetration and subsequent delivery of drug entities across the skin barrier allow for a noninvasive, convenient and relatively adverse event free mechanism for accomplishing this tailored care. Another great advantage of compound BHRT formulations is that they can be easily adjusted according to the patient’s changing medical needs
"Hormones 101." ZRT Laboratory. ZRT Laboratory, 2012. Web. 2013. <www.zrtlab.com>.