• Safe Female Hormones? (updated)

    by Micheal Doyle, MD
    on Oct 27th, 2017

Bio-identical hormones in the 1980’s.

In the 1980’s, millions of American women were being treated with “hormone replacement therapy” in order to reduce hot flashes and prevent a variety of illnesses.

The idea was that replacing the hormones that nearly disappeared during menopause would eliminate menopausal symptoms while protecting then from bone thinning, heart disease and more. Many doctors urged any woman nearing menopause to start this health-promoting protocol. At that same, a great Belgian physician named Jacques Hertoghe was in the US touting the many benefits and great safety of estrogen and progesterone therapy. Then, in 2002 the groundbreaking Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study was released. This huge study showed that most doctors had it all wrong. Rather than improving health, the widely used female hormone treatments actually caused a variety of illnesses including cancer and heart disease. Suddenly, women were told that they should avoid female hormones and suffer in silence.

So how could Hertoghe and thousands of American doctors have been so wrong? Actually, Hertoghe had it exactly right. He recommended only bio-identical human hormones (bio-identical hormones) , given at the right dose, via the proper route. Most American doctors were at the time prescribing a combination of synthetic progesterone and horse estrogen (literally, estrogen derived from horse urine). And they were giving it all in pill form. In fact, Dr. Hertoghe had specifically cautioned against using female hormones that were not bio-identical (natural to the human body). He also pointed out that estrogen should be given only through the skin, not as a pill.

Subsequent Studies Supporting Dr. Hertoghe’s position About Hormone Replacement Therapy

Subsequent studies have strongly supported Dr. Hertoghe’s position, repeatedly showing that real human hormones are much safer than their synthetic counterparts. For example, in 2005 a study of 54,000 women (E3N-EPIC) showed that bio-identical estrogen applied to the skin combined with bio-identical progesterone actually reduced the rate of breast cancer. That’s right—women taking this combination of real hormones were actually 10% less likely to get breast cancer than women who took no hormones at all. But when the natural progesterone was replaced with a synthetic progesterone derivative (a “progestin”), the rate of breast cancer went up by 50%. Another review noted that estrogen given through the skin was much less likely to cause blood clots than when given as a pill (BMJ 2008). After many similar studies, researchers recently stated, “bioidentical hormones are associated with lower risks, including the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, and are more efficacious than their synthetic and animal-derived counterparts” (Postgraduate Medicine 2009).

So, while no medical treatment is 100% safe, real (bio-identical) female hormones offer an excellent way to improve health and restore quality of life for those who need them. They can help control menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, bone thinning, sexual dysfunction and poor sleep and may actually be good for your heart. On the other hand, synthetic hormones appear to pose unnecessary risk and should generally be avoided. At least one smart doctor knew it all along.

Author Micheal Doyle, MD Michael E. Doyle, MD, is a board-certified family physician with nearly two decades of clinical experience. At Darien Integrative Medicine in Darien, Connecticut, he combines his extensive experience in both conventional and alternative medicine to offer his patients uniquely safe and effective care.

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