A 45 year old woman came to see me last week complaining of a lack of sleep, night sweats, low libido, decreasing energy, and weight gain. She felt unattractive and overall did not like who she was becoming–inside and out. She, like so many others, knew that she was “out of balance” but had not gotten the help that she needed from her doctor. The good news is that we were able to work together to figure out what her hormone imbalance was and she is on the road to feeling balanced and enjoying her life.Her questions at the office consultation brought to my attention how much confusion there is about hormones.
Hormones are simply chemical messengers that your body uses in order to communicate from one part of the body to another. What you eat, what chemicals you expose your body to, how much stress you are under, and how much sleep you get can all affect your body’s ability to make the hormones that it needs and keep the delicate balance that you require in order to feel good. Thus, a healthy lifestyle is critical to keeping your hormones in balance.
However, often your hormones are out of balance beyond what lifestyle changes can fix and your body needs for you to take hormones in order to achieve proper balance. Optimizing your hormone levels means getting them to a level where you feel balanced and healthy and have minimal side effects. Just following the normal ranges of a lab result are not what bio-identical hormone experts do. We look at optimal levels–the levels where people feel their best without putting them at risk from having too much of a certain hormone. Normal ranges are ranges that come from the general population and that population is overweight, fatigued, and in general does not feel great. You want optimal health, not normal.
If you are out of balance, then you will want to use bio-identical hormones. Bio-identical hormones are simply hormones that are made to be biologically equivalent to what your body should naturally be making. The source is typically plant based. The theory is that when you take bio-identical hormones, your body sees it as if your body made the hormones; not as a foreign substance. This is believed to be safer and more effective. It makes sense that if you replace what your body is missing with the exact chemical structure of what it is missing, then this should be safer and work more effectively.
Let’s review the major hormones that experts in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy work with:
- Estradiol (a type of estrogen)–sub optimal (low) levels of estrogen can be associated with weight gain in women, especially in the abdomen area, along with hot flashes, dry vaginal area, mood swings, wrinkled skin, etc. In men, low testosterone in combination with excess estrogen is associated with excess abdominal fat as well. (and the growth of breast tissue and the prostate).
- Progesterone–sub optimal (low) levels of progesterone in women can be associated with an increased risk of breast/uterine cancer, along with depression, bone thinning, PMS, mood swings, hot flashes, poor sleep, etc. Low levels in men can be associated with an increased risk of prostate enlargement and prostate cancer, along with poor sleep, depressed mood, brain fog, increased pain in the body, etc.
- Testosterone–sub optimal (low) levels of testosterone in men and women can be associated with a higher risk of dementia, bone loss, heart disease, diabetes, along with low libido, mood swings, low energy, increased pain in the body, poor healing from injuries, brain fog, wrinkled skin, etc. Some women suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovarian disease) and have elevated testosterone levels. They can suffer from elevated blood sugars, weight gain, and menstrual irregularities.
- Thyroid–sub optimal (low) levels of thyroid in men and women can be associated with weight gain, fatigue, depression, etc.
The list can really go on and on. Experts in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy strive to achieve optimal results by working in harmony with each individual’s unique biochemistry. Everyone is different and everyone requires a different treatment. It takes time to properly evaluate your symptoms, interpret your lab work, and educate you on the proper treatment plan. There are several ways to restore hormone balance in men and women (creams, oral capsules, implanted pellets, etc), it is important to get the correct treatment regimen for you. It is unfortunate but current medical insurances do not cover the expense of a proper hormone consultation and treatment. This may change in the future, but you can not wait for this to change if you are currently hormonally imbalanced.