Are bio-identical hormones safe?
Many natural healthcare providers work with natural or bio-identical hormones claiming they are safer than common prescription hormones. Prescription estrogen (also called conjugated estrogens) is obtained from the urine of mares. Bio-identical estrogens are molecularly the same as human estrogen but are synthesized in laboratories from soy or wild yams.
Progestins are drugs that act like progesterone in the body. These drugs are patented molecules that do not occur in nature. They are not progesterone, but they do stimulate progesterone receptors in the body.
Many women experience dramatic improvements in their menopausal symptoms when taking either conjugated or bio-identical hormones. But, are they safe?
Recent medical studies indicate that conjugated estrogens increase the risk of blood clots and other cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. They also show that conjugated estrogens (only) when combined with progestins increase the risks of some types of cancer.
The scientific research seems to indicate that bio-identical hormones do not cause the cardiovascular risks that are associated with conjugated estrogens or at the very least do so at a much lower rate. Here are a couple of studies that show this (1, 2).
What about cancer? Based upon our best research, conjugated estrogens don’t increase the risk of cancer. I am not aware of any data or scientific studies that allows us to make the same judgement about bio-identical estrogen.
Here are the important points:
1) conjugated estrogens increase the risk of heart disease, blood clots and strokes
2) bio-identical estrogen does not seem to increase the risk of heart disease, blood clots or strokes. But, more research needs to be done in this regard.
3) conjugated estrogens do not seem to increase the risk of cancer
4) conjugated estrogens when taken with progestins increase the risk of some types of cancer
5) we do not know the effects of taking bio-identical estrogen alone on cancer risk
6) we do not know the effects of taking bio-identical estrogen in combination with bio-identical progesterone on cancer risk
As a patient, it is important that you know what risks you are taking when choosing whether or not to take hormones for menopausal symptoms. It is also important to know what questions remain unanswered. You have the right to make decisions that make sense to you.
If you are aware of any medical research showing the effects of bio-identical estrogens on cancer risk, please forward them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is a reprint of another blog posting.