Antiaging Treatment: Pros and Cons of Bioidentical Human Hormone Replacement Therapy
A "miracle therapy" for some, hormone replacement is no quick fix.
Illustration by Stefano Morri
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Almost monthly, it seems there’s some new antiaging breakthrough hitting the market. Bioidentical human hormone replacement therapy is one of the latest—but it’s not just about cosmetic upkeep. Rather, it goes much deeper, improving overall energy levels, libido, weight maintenance and more.
HHRT has become so popular, in fact, that it’s been touted by some—including aging TV sexpot Suzanne Somers—as a natural weapon against the so-called “over-pharmaceutical-ization” of America. And yet, for all the answers it’s said to provide, HHRT has raised just as many questions.
Human hormone replacement therapy utilizes bioidentical hormones that are virtual molecular matches to those made in the body. Based on age, health and endocrinologic fluctuations, varying levels of hormones may be used to restore the desired balance, thus alleviating the symptoms brought on by the natural decrease in hormone production.
Pharmaceutical synthetic options are available, but the key differences between these and their natural counterparts are the structure and the source. In order for a replacement hormone to fully replicate the function of human hormones, the chemical structure must precisely match the original. Pharmaceutical companies must change the molecular structure of the hormone (which is often derived from horses) to get a patent, because you can’t patent a natural substance. With individualized compounding, the human substance is already present, its dose manipulated to suit a specific need.
But there may be other natural sources present. “The compounds they use may be plant derived,” says Dr. Cheryl Koch, an endocrinologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “The claim is that they’re identical to human hormones, which may not be the case if plant-based estrogens are used.”