First it was Suzanne Somers. Now itâ€™s Oprah and Robin McGraw, the wife of Dr. Phil, who are lauding the wonders of bioidentical hormones.
As we explain on our website, bioidentical hormones are defined as hormones that are chemically identical to the ones our own bodies make.Â This is to differentiate them from Premarin, which is derived from pregnant mares’ urine and other chemical variations on women’s hormones. I often hear people say that because bioidenticals are “natural,” they must be safe and effective.Â This, unfortunately, is not backed up by any data.Â No large studies have been done on these hormones, nor have any studies been done on the hormone combinations made in compounding pharmacies.Â This doesn’t mean that they are not safe, but it also does not mean that they are!
It is disconcerting to see Oprah and others promoting the idea that bioidentical hormones are safe. We know that there is a direct correlation between a postmenopausal woman’s estrogen and testosterone levels and her breast cancer risk. More importantly, studies have found that women who have high estrogen levels (and what could be more “natural” than a woman’s own hormones?) have denser breast tissue, a known risk factor for cancer. Also, the one study that looked specifically at micronized progesterone (the type that is believed to be “bioidentical”) rather than the more commonly used progestins also found an increase in breast density.
Oprah is absolutely right when she says that women’s hormones have not been given enough attention. But we disagree when it comes to the idea that bioidenticals are the way to go. There is a reason that menopause is programmed in to women’s bodies. We need high levels of hormones to reproduce. Then, our hormones shift down to a safer level for the second half of life. The shift down, just like the shift up at puberty, can cause symptoms, like hot flashes, for many women. But just like the moodiness and pimples you probably had during puberty, they don’t last forever.
Recent studies have shown that it’s only safe to be on “non-bioidentical” hormone replacement therapy for about two years. (Read my blog entry Menopausal Hormonesâ€”Back in the News to learn more about these studies.) There is absolutely NO reason to believe it is any different for bioidentical hormones. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!