Have you heard of bio-identical hormone treatment?

Aisling Grimley.

In the interest of passing on useful information that I come across, some of you might be interested to learn about bio-identical hormones. This treatment might help those struggling with difficult symptoms like depression, anxiety or headaches; or symptoms more typically associated with menopause like heavy periods, night sweats and hot flushes.

In an interesting article in last week’s Guardian newspaper, the writer Jeanette Winterson wrote about her experience of menopause and the significant easing of her symptoms through the use of bio-identical hormones a new and apparently very effective hormone therapy for the symptoms of menopause. Her doctor is Dr Marion Gluck in London. I think the article is well worth a read.

Bio-identical hormones have exactly the same benefits as HRT – however they are naturally derived, and applied mostly as gels (thus avoiding absorption via liver, kidneys etc). Doses are customised depending on individual symptoms - this is managed via regular blood testing - and adjusted based on the results of each test.

Bio-identical hormones are made from plant sources – Mexican yam and soya beans. They are absorbed more easily by our bodies because they are replicas of the hormones that our bodies make during our fertile years. Synthetic hormones, such as those used in HRT, have a different chemical structure and have been shown to have side effects in some circumstances. Many women are reluctant to take HRT because of this. It seems that there is some controversy over bio-identical hormones because they have not been rigorously tested and also because, as I understand it, they cannot be patented by pharmaceutical companies because they come from natural sources.

Jeanette Winterston’s experience is mirrored by a few Second Springers, one of whom described her experience with bio-identical hormones as follows:

“They are amazing. I’ve recently started treatment and 3 months in I feel much better - less heavy and frequent periods and better overall mood. You don't need to wait till menopause. I have terrible menstrual migraines. Higher oestrogen in the second half of my cycle helps massively with these. Also, I need a tiny amount of testosterone - many don't. The bio-identical approach considers thyroid hormones equally with sexual ones - the whole idea being that everything we go through physically and mentally is massively influenced by hormones. Migraines were the route into this for me, and I've just started it. Frankly wish I had tried it years earlier, I’m now taking much less of the horrible strong meds to cure my headaches. The treatment is now actually better known as body-identical rather than bio-identical, the idea being that you take what best suits your individual needs.

I know it is cheaper and easier to throw the whole synthetic HRT thing at women, but this direction is so much better for me”

An article on Independent.ie in 2012 reported that “a regular trickle of Irish patients flows through the London-based clinic of Dr Marion Gluck. They are among the 1,800 or so women from the UK, Germany, Italy and France who want to avail of a relatively new treatment being offered by the GP - Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT). Some have seen it featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, others have heard of it through word-of-mouth or stumbled across it on the internet.

Bio-identical hormone treatment is not a cheap option. Some women travel to London and others may see experts such as Dr Paivi Shedd MD, PhD who visits Ireland regularly to treat patients here. First appointments cost €375 and last 1hr 30 mins. Then, there are blood, urine or saliva tests to pay for, depending on what hormones are tested, and of course the treatment itself. You can read more on this website. Bio-identical hormone treatment seems to be a lot more common in the United States and as it becomes more mainstream here and more practitioners use the treatment hopefully the prices will come down.

Have you experienced bio-identical or body-identical treatment? If so please let us know where you had the treatment and what you thought of it.

Further reading – The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottried, MD

Photo with thanks to Joe Barnes


You may also be interested in

Very often naming and acknowledging the menopause helps women to deal with symptoms.
Mariella Frostrup and how we need to talk about menopause and plan ahead.
Confused about menopause? You are not alone.
Irish Times article on pros and cons of using HRT
Loretta Dignam used her own menopause experience  to good effect -  she set out to bring Bio-identical hormones to Irish women


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