There’s been quite a lot of coverage in the media over the last few months about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) and its benefits.
This treatment, which uses plant-based compounds to replicate the molecular structures of the body’s natural hormones, has become increasingly popular in the UK over the last few years after originally coming to prominence in the United States.
With celebrity cheerleaders like Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna, among others, sharing their personal BHRT stories and experiences in recent weeks, the debate around why the treatment is still largely ignored by public health agencies has been reignited.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is most commonly used in the management of menopausal symptoms as an alternative to synthetic HRT treatments which are either man-made or derived from animal products (such as horse urine).
But it also acts as an anti-ageing treatment, offering additional benefits to women who choose to take BHRT in menopause. And, of course, the anti-ageing attributes of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy means it’s a treatment that can also be of benefit to men.
How is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy available?
Currently, BHRT is only available privately through clinics such as ours, despite clear evidence that it’s a treatment that poses no risk to health and overwhelming numbers of case studies that demonstrate its efficacy in managing the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.
The reasons why agencies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) refuse to engage positively with medical advocates on the potential of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy as an alternative to synthetic HRT are shrouded in a fog of disingenuity.
On the one hand, NICE argues that there’s no clinical evidence to suggest BHRT is equally or more effective than conventional HRT treatments.
But that’s somewhat inevitable when NICE has pointedly refused to approve the clinical research and/or trials that it says it requires in order to take any other position on the treatment.
And while NICE would – and does – reject the suggestion that its refusal to engage has commercial considerations at heart, it’s difficult, when appraising the evidence for BHRT, to think of any other reason why it’s so unwilling to respond to the growing clamour for BHRT to be publicly funded.
The same argument is true when considering the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) similarly lukewarm appetite to engage with the US medical community on the subject.
The benefits of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy in menopause are well documented.
Chief among them is that it offers true choice for women who may be reluctant to commit to a GP-favoured synthetic HRT that has often been the subject of reports that suggest it may have links to breast cancer and heart disease, among other conditions.
In terms of managing menopause symptoms, BHRT has shown to be as effective, if not more so, as conventional HRT in mitigating – either in part or completely – the main symptoms, which include but are not limited to hot flashes, insomnia, loss of libido and mood swings.
Additionally, patients who take bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, either to manage the symptoms of menopause or for its anti-ageing characteristics, report a range of benefits that include increased sex drive, more energy, better mood, more mental clarity, improved motivation to lose weight and stay fit and much better skin health and generally elevated levels of joie de vivre.
Because the plant-based compounds that replicate our naturally occurring hormones also promote the natural functions of the body that become jaded and less effective as advancing years cause pronounced hormonal imbalances.
Production of collagen, keratin and elastin proteins that are essential for healthy skin is increased. Oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone work together to produce multiple benefits. Ultimately, as the hormonal balance is restored, so is general wellbeing.
In the end, and regardless of NICE’s and the FDA’s view of its clinical efficacy – a view that flies in the face of real-life case studies – what is absolutely clear is that BHRT is not in any way harmful when used correctly.
It, therefore, falls to individual patients to judge whether it is a suitable and appropriate option as a treatment to mitigate the impact and effect of menopause and ageing.
And although it is disappointing that BHRT won’t be available as an NHS treatment in the near future, perhaps the people who do see bioidentical hormone replacement therapy as the way forward in their own health management are the best people to judge anyway.