Here’s a look at the natural estrogen and the bioidentical hormone therapy controversy ….Are Bioidentical or natural hormones right for you?
The estrogen hit the fan and the fur went flying as some of the nations leading health experts lined up to take swipes at actress Suzanne Somers. The reason: Her public outcry over the benefits of natural estrogen and other bioidentical hormone replacement therapy – now known as BHRT.
Now, talk show zion OPRAH Winfrey has joined the frey, coming down on the side of natural biodientical estrogen , who, like Somers says, these natural hormones changed her life.
Winfrey, who turns 55 this month writes in the new edition of “O” magazine that she was “out of kilter” and that a prescription for bioidentical estrogen made a huge difference in her life.
“After one day on bioidentical estrogen, I felt the veil lift,” Winfrey writes. “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.”
Further, she has devoted entire shows to the subject, where, along with Robin McGraw, who recently authored “What’s Age Got To Do With It” tout the benefits of bioidentical hormone therapy.
If this sounds familiar, it should … it’s an almost identical mantra spoken Somers who , after entering menopause a few years earlier than Winfrey and McGraw found bioidentical hormones to be her saving grace as well . She wrote about her experiences in a book titled ” Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bio Identical Hormones ” (Crown Books). Like Winfrey and McGraw, Somers claims that substituting bio identical hormones – those that are molecularly identical to what the ovaries make – for the synthetic ones commonly used in most prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will give menopause-aged women a new lease on life.
Not only does she claim it stopped and reversed her bone loss, she says women can say goodbye to hot flashes, night sweats and cranky mood swings while recapturing the health, beauty and sexuality of their youth. All without the health risks now attributed to traditional, largely synthetic hormones used in HRT.
But are these women right? Many say they are not – and that their advice is dangerous.
In fact, one group of doctors – a panel of seven noted physicians, 3 of whom were quoted in the Somers book – say her promises far exceed what we know about these treatments. They sent a letter to Somers and her publisher claiming the book is misleading, inaccurate, and downright dangerous for women to follow.
“Our concern is strictly a safety issue – we feel that Suzanne Somers should be commended for bringing the subject of bio identical hormones center stage, but she offers incorrect information and endorses protocols that are unproven and in some instances dangerous – she has simply gone too far,” says Erika Schwartz, MD, a New York physician who is quoted in the book and spearheaded the letter campaign after viewing advanced copies.
Through her publisher, Somers, who just turned 60, offers defends herself and her book: ” For the past decade, Suzanne Somers has been immersed in researching anti-aging medicine . . . . she has embraced this medicine because she has seen the results in her own body and well being but knows there continues to be an ongoing dialogue in the medical community on how to best utilize this new information in concert with more conventional forms of healthcare.”
While doctors are not so quick to criticize Winfrey for her choice – ostensibly because of her media throne – there are those who continue to express concern.
The biggest issue: The lack of controlled medical safety studies showing that bioidentical hormones are any safer. Indeed, while Robin McGraw recently told Oprah Winfrey on the air that she did her “research” on bioidentical hormones before writing her book, and that’s what led her to believe they were the safer alternative.
But the real truth is, if you do your research, as McGraw suggests, what you will find is that there are basically no long term studies on the safety of bioidentical hormones, and that there are no randomized trials on safety, dosing or effectiveness.
In fact, I’ve discovered that most of the “research” people like Somers, and Winfrey and McGraw allude to is actually information that’s put out there by those involved in marketing bioidentical hormones – and not unbiased clinicial trails published in peer review medical journals.
Lab Vs. Nature: What You Should Know
Regardless of whatever public debates the book has incited, the question that lingers is how much do we really know about bio identical hormones and how they work.
“There is no mystery, they are not weird science or outside the realm of conventional medicine at all – they are a form of manufactured estrogen and progesterone that, on a molecular level is identical to what is produced naturally by the ovaries –and a number of pharmaceutical companies have been making them and doctors have been prescribing them for some time,” says Steve Goldstein, MD, professor of gynecology at NYU Medical Center in New York City.
These, he says, clued bio identical estrogens known as 17 beta estradiol, available in prescription products such as Estrace, Vivelle Dot, EstraRing and now, generic form. The only form of bio identical progeseterone is Promethium, made by Solvay Pharmaceutical.
By comparision, Goldstein says synthetic hormones such as Premarin – a form of estrogen made from horse urine – is similar in structure and only slightly different from what’s produced naturally in the body. .
The question is, does that slight difference make a big difference in how women feel – or even in their future health? The answer depends a lot on whom you ask.
According to Wolf Utian, MD, executive director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), ” The word Bio identical is a marketing misnomer – and the claims for safety and efficacy are entirely without merit – they are the same as [synthetic] hormones and if given in bio-equivilant doses the risks would be exactly the same,” he says.
Schwartz on the other hand believes it makes all the difference in the world.
“When you change the molecular structure of a hormone – as is the case with synthetic hormones – then the body does not know what to do with it; conversely, when what you give a supplement identical to what the body produces, then it knows exactly how to use it for the best possible advantage,” says Schwartz.
Somers book claims those advantages include not only an amelioration of menopause-related symptoms, but also a general rejuvenation of the body, mind and maybe even the spirit.