In his new book 10 Secrets of Healthy Ageing, Patrick Holford discusses hormone balance in detail, and this extract focuses on why women need to consider why bioidentical hormones are better for overall health and reducing cancer risk.
‘Hormones affect almost every part of your system so, not surprisingly, when your levels drop too low you can suffer a confusingly wide range of symptoms – and most of these could also be caused by something else! If you’ve been suffering from any of the following for a while, it’s worth having your hormones checked to see if they could be contributing:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability and mood swings
- Increased pain, inflammation and aching joints
- Insomnia, night sweats and weight gain
- Thinner, older skin with more wrinkles
- Decreased libido and lack of energy and drive
- Confusion and memory problems
Is HRT the Answer For Menopause?
Until 2002 HR was widely prescribed as the solution to the menopause when the body’s hormone production starts to decline. Short term use is not linked with additional risk, but long term risk is raised of heart disease and breast cancer. Following the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study prescriptions in the UK and US have halved. In the years after that there has also been a significant decline in the number of breast cancers. So what can you do instead?
There is a solution that is widely used in the US but little known in the UK. It involves the same hormones found in regular HRT but they come in a subtly different form known as bioidentical. Which means they are exactly the same as the ones your body was making until it reached the menopause. The ones used in HRT are not identical and this is very probably the reason for the problems they have caused. For example, a type of oestrogen still widely used (over 500,000 prescriptions issued in England alone in 2010) is known as conjugated oestrogen and comes from the urine of pregnant mares so it contains types of oestrogen normally only found in horses.
The replacement for progesterone that is used in regular HRT is known as progestin (or progestogen) and it has a significantly different chemical structure from progesterone. The differences are clear:
- Made in large amounts during pregnancy
- Is also a diuretic
- Decreases the risk of blood clots
- Has antidepressant effects
- Helps to build bone
- Can cause miscarriages
- Can cause fluid retention
- Can cause blood clots
- Linked with mood swings
- Can reduce bone density
Bioidentical hormones are manufactured from plants, especially Mexican wild yams and soy, to be chemically the same as the hormones your body produces. The appeal of this is easy to understand.
“Replacing the oestrogen that your body is no longer producing with the versions found in conventional HRT is like replacing parts designed for a Chevy with those made for a Mercedes. They may be almost the same, but with both engine parts and biology, very precise measurements matter.” Dr Jonathan Wright, Medical Director of Tahoma Clinic in Washington DC.
Do We Need Additional Hormones As We Age?
There’s an obvious parallel between taking nutrients as we get older, because we absorb them less efficiently, and replacing hormones as their levels decline. Should we correct these deficiencies? Both are needed to help your body and brain to adapt to changes around you, and they can overlap. Vitamin D, for example, also functions as a hormone. In fact ageing could be defined as a loss of adaptive capacity. So if your aim is to live as long and as healthy a life as possible, the obvious answer is yes.
Attractive as the idea seems, the debate ultimately comes down to whether that actually makes a difference in the real world. There is evidence that it does. A review of over 200 studies on bioidenticals in the Postgraduate Review Journal concluded that they were more effective and had greater health benefits than regular HRT.
“Many physicians state there is no evidence they are safer but the medical literature clearly shows they are highly effective and have some distinctly different, often opposing, physiological effects to regular HRT.” Author Dr Ken Holtor who runs a clinic that uses them in America.
Meanwhile, a follow-up of those in the Women’s Health Initiative study found that among postmenopausal women, use of oestrogen plus progestin was associated with more advanced breast cancers and more deaths from them. And the same combination has also been linked with a raised risk of lung cancer.
Will natural hormones extend your healthy lifespan? The odds are good but there’s no definitive proof yet. The idea of using hormones to keep people well rather than treating disease is a relatively new one; two American experts reviewed the evidence a few years ago, concluding that ‘well informed use of hormones in wellness and disease prevention will result in symptomatic improvement.’
Patrick Holford’s book, from which this extract was taken, is available on his website together with a free online bioage check at www.patrickholford.com