Hormone replacement therapy -- providing women with estrogen or estrogen and progestin to ease hot flashes and other uncomfortable symptoms of menopause -- has been around since 1950s.
In 2002, the Women's Health Initiative released a much-publicized report indicating that the health risks of hormone replacement therapy could outweigh the benefits for some women. That led some women to look for alternative treatments. One option gaining interest is called bio-identical hormone replacement.
Here are some frequently asked questions:
What is bio-identical hormone replacement? The term "bio-identical" is used because the administered hormones are chemically synthesized and identical to the naturally occurring hormones of the human body. Estradiol, progesterone, estriol (another natural estrogen), and testosterone are the most common. Based on the results of a person's salivary hormone levels, a dose is created to provide the specific level of hormones each woman needs.
How does this differ from standard hormone replacement therapy?
Proponents, including Tod Adams, a Lexington compounding pharmacist, say that tailoring the dosage and providing the chemical equivalent of the natural hormones helps ease symptoms. Plus, bio-identical hormones are often given as a topical cream or in a patch form that is better absorbed into the body.
Which is better: standard hormone replacement therapy or bio-identical hormone replacement therapy?
Some women swear by the bio-identical method, but Dr. Ken Muse, associate professor at the University of Kentucky and director of the division of reproductive endocrinology, said, "there is no evidence, absolutely underline the no, that there is any advantage over the traditional approach." Because bio-identical hormone replacement isn't covered by many insurance plans, it is more expensive than traditional methods.
What can be done to alleviate menopause symptoms without taking hormone replacement of any kind?
Do many of the same basic things you should do to stay healthy: Be active and get more exercise, don't smoke, eat right and control your weight. Also, have regular checkups and ask your doctor whether you should take calcium and vitamin D. Have a breast exam and a mammogram.
Information in this story also came from the Food and Drug Administration and the Mayo Clinic.
By Mary Meehan
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Posted on Tue, Nov. 29, 2005