- Women's Health
Hormone Replacement Therapy & The Pursuit Of Youth: What Women Need To Know
“Our mothers were largely silent about what happened to them as they passed through this midlife change. But a new generation of women has already started to break the wall of silence.”
― Trisha Posner
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
In my personal quest to discover how to alleviate the side effects of menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and fatigue, I have gathered information regarding hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy came about as a treatment for menopausal women to infuse their bodies with more estrogen.
After menopause hits the female body there is an intense drop in estrogen. This can lead to several reactions that plague women during menopause including night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and loss of sex drive - just to name a handful.
Medications containing hormone replacements serve to replace the missing estrogen, and therefore - theoretically - restore a quality of life without the severity of menopausal symptoms.
There has been a good amount of controversy surrounding hormone replacement therapy, as well as some notable celebrity endorsements. We'll get to the controversy shortly.
Note: There are hormone replacement therapies that are used for transgender people who are looking to transition into either males or females. They have testosterone or estrogen put into their bodies - but that is a completely different subject not covered here.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Replacing the use of conventional hormone replacement therapy - rather rapidly - is the use of something called bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. Celebrities such as Jane Seymour, Oprah Winfrey, and Angelina Jolie have been reported to use this method.
The difference between traditional hormone replacement therapy and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is that traditional hormone replacements are derived from plant or animal sources, and bio-identical hormone replacements are synthesized in a lab.
The bio-identical hormones are made to be identical to the hormones that the human body produces, and traditional hormone replacements may contain more variables since they originate from plant or animal sources.
Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy can be customized per individual so that the dosage is suitable for each person based on how much they need to improve their quality of life.
Despite the hype over bio-identical hormone replacement versus traditional hormones replacement, many doctors claim there is no significant difference between the two, and that most of the hormone replacement drugs on the market today all contain some kind of synthetic compound.
There are women who swear by hormone replacement therapy, not only as a relief from menopause but as an anti-aging remedy. Some users are very vocal about replacement therapy drugs giving them increased energy levels, helping to repair brittle bones, preventing osteoporosis, improving memory, and giving the skin a more youthful glow.
"There are women who swear by hormone replacement therapy, not only as a relief from menopause but as an anti-aging remedy."
The Celebrity Factor
Most notably on the bio-identical hormone replacement bandwagon is Suzanne Somers, best known for her role on "Three's Company" decades ago.
Now 68, Somers has written several books hailing the miracles of hormone replacement therapy and has a website where she advocates for the use of bio-identical hormone pills.
On her website site, Somers claims that the drugs have given her the "energy of someone half my age" and "strong bones".
Somers promotes "Bio-identical Hormones and wellness" at "Forever Health.com". She also claims the estrogen gives her lustrous hair and a phenomenal sex drive.
Somers has appeared on "Oprah" and other shows such as, "The Talk" promoting her take on how to slow down the aging process with bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.
But Somers has been subject to intense scrutiny over the advice and information she is spreading regarding this type of treatment.
Somers has written two books on the subject of bio-identical hormone replacement, but has no formal medical training, so there are definitely many skeptics out there who brush off much of what she says.
An additional factor in the case of Suzanne Somers is that besides her "healthy" lifestyle of eating only organic food, practicing yoga, and still using her "Thigh-Master" machine, there is evidence that she is has had Botox injections, collagen injections, and most obviously - dyes her hair. These factors, if true, would certainly damper an image of being "natural".
Angelina Jolie has opened up about using hormone replacement therapy. In 2012, Jolie had a double mastectomy, and later had her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed. Jolie did all this because she carries a gene that makes her very vulnerable to breast and ovarian cancer.
Now approaching her 40's, Jolie would be entering into menopause much earlier than usual due to the procedures she's had, so she wears a clear patch that delivers bio-identical estrogen into her system.
It's left up for assumption whether or not the hormone replacement therapy Jolie uses are indeed helping her stay young and vital as she ages.
Jane Seymour, who - in her fifties - was proclaimed one of the sexiest women in the world, also takes bio-identical hormones to help relieve menopausal symptoms, but Seymour says that she uses a dosage suitable for her lifestyle, which also includes healthy eating and yoga.
Back in 2009, Oprah Winfrey caused a stir by saying that she had started using bio-identical hormone replacement therapy when menopause caught her off guard. Although Winfrey was clear that she wasn't recommending the treatment for all women, she felt that it was time to start a discussion about it.
"After one day on bioidentical estrogen, I felt the veil lift. After three days, the sky was bluer, my brain was no longer fuzzy, my memory was sharper. I was literally singing and had a skip in my step." - Oprah Winfrey
There are now many companies selling estrogen and progesterone skin lotions, promising revitalized, glowing effects.
Menopause tends to dry the skin, because of drops in estrogen and progesterone, therefore escalating the growth of wrinkles
Many women are turning to the hormone creams to make their skin look younger and this is a growing industry.
The hormone creams are advertised as being safer than the actual hormone replacement therapies. Which brings us to the risk factors involved with this process.
Is Hormone Replacement Therapy Safe?
This is the big question.
As with anything that we administer to our bodies that shouldn't be there, risks are always involved.
There has been a strong backlash against hormone replacement therapy - bio-identical or otherwise - due to evidence that it may cause breast cancer, stroke, or blood clots, just to name a few.
When women go through menopause, the endometrial cells - which are normally dispelled during menstruation - are not shed anymore. If a woman adds more estrogen into her system, this may cause an overload of uterine cells, which is a potential cause of cancer.
Doctors emphasize that women with breast cancer, heart disease, liver disease, or a history of blood clots, should not undergo hormone replacement therapy. In addition, women without menopausal symptoms are not considered viable candidates for hormone replacement therapy.
In other words, the pursuit of a youthful glow, lustrous hair, more energy, and less hot flashes is not in itself a good enough reason to partake in hormone replacement therapy.
Of course, this has not stopped leagues of women who are among the growing trend of ladies who want to recapture their youth any way they can.
"Doctors emphasize that women with breast cancer, heart disease, liver disease, or a history of blood clots, should not undergo hormone replacement therapy."
How is Hormone Replacement Therapy Delivered?
Hormone replacement therapy can be delivered into the body by pills, patches, vaginal creams, or rings.
A low-dose transdermal patch is also available which puts the hormones directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the liver.
There's evidence this method may help reduce the risk for metabolic problems.
How Much Does Hormone Replacement Therapy Cost?
Although a definitive answer of this question is elusive due to each individual having variances of dosage amounts, health insurance, location, and type of therapy, the average cost per month looks to be somewhere between $10 - $85.
Of course, again, it's always best to get a doctor's opinion - and even a second or third one at that - before going ahead with hormone replacement therapy.
There are natural remedies available as well, including herbal supplements or acupuncture, but the results of these methods are not conclusive.
The Fountain of Youth
As the average women approaches her 50's, menopause becomes an inevitable companion. With it comes the fading of youth and all that we are used to having. Skin gets dry and loose, we may gain weight due to hormone fluctuation, and our previously bouncy hair starts to thin out.
With the onset of hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, and loss of energy, the search for a way to revitalize starts to emerge.
The benefits of hormone replacement therapy are noteworthy. It helps the body to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, keeps the vagina healthy, and works with the body to process calcium which is essential for women in menopause in regards to preventing osteoporosis.
But, as with any decision that involves altering the body's natural system, one must always consult with a doctor first. There are some hormone replacement compounds on the market that are not FDA approved so being educated is the first step.
There is no doubt that hormone replacement therapy has improved the lives of many women who have tried it. If you think it's right for you, check with your doctor.