Hormones are produced by endocrine glands throughout the body. Hormones are chemical messengers that circulate through the bloodstream and regulate activities in all tissues within our bodies. All hormones are derived from cholesterol; enzymes convert cholesterol into many different hormones. As hormone levels decline, a woman has three choices. She can take nothing, take synthetic hormones, or take bioidentical hormones. Taking nothing is very natural but we also were not designed to live much after menopause. One hundred years ago, the average woman died before menopause. With the advancement of medicine, women are now spending a significant fraction of their life in menopause. Bioidentical hormones are structurally and chemically equivalent to the hormones made by the endocrine organs. Though bioidentical hormones require a prescription from a physician, they are not drugs or medicines. It is a process of replacing a hormone that the body has always produced. The natural production of the hormone is low because of age. Hormone insufficiency has been implicated to be a major cause of aging. Hormone levels begin to decrease in the mid-thirties, and progressively decline after this.
I do not like the term “natural” hormone replacement because making these hormones is not a natural process. The starting materials for these hormones are derived from plants and changed in a laboratory into human hormones. Some people consume soy, yams, or other plants, thinking that they are getting human estrogen from these plants. We do not have the enzymes in our bodies to convert plant hormones into human hormones. Before we had the ability to synthesize hormones in the laboratory, the easiest way to get hormones was from animal species, like horses. Foreign or synthetic hormones are completely different molecules than the original hormone. When these molecules act on the hormone receptors, they do not fit properly, thus producing an abnormal effect. The reason why synthetic hormones are used today is because pharmaceutical companies are still producing them, and aggressively marketing them to physicians. These companies do not produce bioidentical hormones because they did not invent them, thus they cannot patent them. Today it is amazing that physicians prescribe foreign or synthetic hormones when they can prescribe the exact molecule that the human body produces. Unfortunately, there are no large randomized controlled studies on bioidentical hormones.