Bioidentical hormones: “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean better

BOSTON, MA — The growing interest in a more natural approach to hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms has focused attention on bioidentical hormones. Bioidentical hormones are identical in molecular structure to the hormones women make in their bodies. Are these "natural" hormones safer or more effective than traditional hormone medications? The August issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch explains.

Bioidentical hormone therapy is often called "natural hormone therapy" because bioidentical hormones act in the body just like the hormones women produce. However, they're not found in nature in this form, but are synthesized from a plant chemical extracted from yams and soy. Many non-bioidentical hormones also come from "natural" plant or animal sources.

Another source of confusion comes from the mistaken notion that bioidentical hormones must be custom-mixed at a compounding pharmacy. That's not the case. These hormones come in a range of products, including many FDA-approved prescription pills, patches, creams, and other preparations. Custom compounding is necessary only when a clinician wants to prescribe hormones in combinations, doses, or preparations not routinely available—or to order hormones not approved for women, such as testosterone and DHEA. Compounding pharmacies use some of the same ingredients that are made into FDA-approved products, but their products are not FDA-approved or regulated.

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