Bio-identical Hormones – Another Way to Handle the Menopause
Report by Jerome Burne and Patrick Holford
If you shop for healthy food, you’ll go for produce that’s had the minimal amount of processing, like fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. You’ll tend to avoid the cakes, sweets and processed foods that are packed with refined sugar, flour and artificial transfats.
So should you follow the same rules when putting replacement hormones into your body around the time of the menopause? Could that also be a lot healthier? The question of just how safe is HRT (hormone replacement therapy) has become an urgent one for millions of women ever since a big trial (the Women’s Health Initiative) six years ago showed that it could increase the risk of breast cancer and strokes from blood clots. The trial’s author Dr Valerie Beral estimated that “the use of HRT by women aged 50-64 years in the UK over the past decade has resulted in an estimated 20,000 extra breast cancers.”(1)
The HRT dilemma
Following this study in 2002, prescriptions for HRT slumped by over 50 per cent in both America and the UK. Research published this year shows that breast cancer incidence has fallen in line with stopping HRT.2 (2) The result of this, according to a recent report in the BMJ, is 1500 fewer cases of breast cancer a year in the UK.
“It’s a big dilemma,” says Dr Marion Gluck, who specialises in hormones and works in London. “Do you get the relief from menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, irritability and risk something much worse, or do you just have to put up with them?”
That’s why the idea that a form of HRT containing hormones that are identical to the ones your body produces naturally has been generating such interest. The ones you get in regular HRT are similar to the real thing but they have been slightly altered. Could that be the source of the problem?
1. Million Women Study Collaborators, Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study, British Medical Journal (2003), vol 362, no 9382.
2. RT Chlebowski et al (WHI Investigators), Breast cancer after use of estrogen plus progestin in postmenopausal women, New England Journal of Medicine (2009), vol 360 (6), pp 573-87.
Not all oestrogens are equal
Why progesterone is key
Examining the evidence
Lessons from France
Can progesterone reduce stroke risk?
Call for more research
What to do if HRT is not working for you
Topping up testosterone
What’s available on the NHS
Useful information sources
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