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Menopause, Hormones & the "C" word.

By Jan Nelson MSN, NP-C, ABAAHP    


     Menopause, all women will experience the symptoms associated with this natural change in life. During this time the ovaries stop producing eggs, menstrual cycles become less frequent/irregular and eventually stop, and estrogen and progesterone decline. Mild to intense hot flushes, night sweats, weight gain, fatigue, irritability, and insomnia are a few of the most common symptoms experienced.

     So many women suffer through this most uncomfortable time in their lives for fear of the of risk of breast cancer and rightly so! This fear stems from the results of the 1991 long-term study on the safety and efficacy of hormone therapy, known as the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). This study utilized traditional/non-bioidentical hormones, NOT bioidentical hormones. Unlike bioidentical hormones, non-bioidentical hormones are not designed to mimic the natural structure of human endogenous hormones.  Non- bioidenticals bind tightly to specific cell receptor sites initiating a long stimulation, which inhibits the natural metabolic process designed for hormone metabolism.

     Results from large French studies were published in 2008 indicating women using synthetic (non-bioidentical) hormone replacement therapy had a 60% increased risk of breast cancer, while bioidentical hormone users had the same breast cancer risk as women who did not take hormones at all. This study involved 54,548 postmenopausal women lasting 8 years. Progestin’s (synthetic progesterone) used in conjunction with estrogens revealed compelling evidence of  an increased risk of developing breast cancer, while recent trials show estrogen combined with natural (bioidentical) progesterone results in less or even no risk of breast cancer. (European Journal of Menopause).

     There are many research findings indicating the safety as well as beneficial effects of individualized dosing of natural estrogens and progesterones. Beneficial effects when using natural bioidentical progesterone are improved cardiovascular health, decreased risk of blood clots, protection against atherosclerosis, and maintaining healthy HDL levels. Other research reveals insight into natural progesterone’s ability to defend against breast cancer. Another study reported in the International Journal of Cancer in 2004 indicated those women with the highest blood levels of progesterone levels who had regular menses experienced 88% decreased risk of breast cancer. In a corroborating study 1,083 women were followed for 33 years, those deficient in progesterone had a 540% increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer.

     Bioidentical hormones, when appropriately prescribed, offer a safer and more effective alternative to synthetic hormones. Women should be educated on hormone replacement therapy in order to make an informed decision on how to cope with pre and post-menopausal symptoms.

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