Thank you for your question! I?ve sifted through the latest data on
synthetic HRT vs. NHRT, and if I can help to enlighten you even a
little bit, my work here is done. :)
As you mentioned, the widely used traditional HRT, increasingly
labelled simply ?HT,? uses synthetic estrogen, progesterone and
testosterone derived from horses, specifically the urine of pregnant
mares. It can have a number of unpleasant side effects, including
vaginal discharge and bleeding, depression, headaches, gallbladder
disease, nausea, fluid retention, swollen breasts, and more
frighteningly, increased breast and ovarian cancer risk.
It?s no wonder, then, that Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy, or
NHRT, is getting more attention these days. As you may already know,
despite the implications of the word, ?Natural? HRT is not the blend
of herbs and spices the label evokes. The ?natural? in Natural HRT
means that the hormones used in treatment are chemically identical to
those found in the human body. Derived from yams (progesterone) and
soybeans (estrogen and testosterone) rather than animal sources, these
?bio-identical? hormones share exactly the same chemical structure as
human hormones, much like a generic drug is a perfect clone of the
brand name. Synthetic HRT, by contrast, is only chemically *similar*
to human hormones.
Women?s Health America, in ?Let?s end the confusion about HRT,?
explains why this is a problem:
?Because they are not identical, synthetic hormones cannot be counted
on to act in the same way human hormones do. They may or may not
produce the PMS and menopause symptom control women desire. As these
studies show, they may also produce potentially dangerous side effects
such as an increased risk of heart attack, blood clots, stroke, and
< http://www.womenshealth.com/library/hrt_conf.html >
By contrast, the ?chemical equality? of natural hormones is one of
HRT's biggest attractions. On her ?Natural Hormone Replacement? site,
Jeannah McElroy explains her feelings on the subject (I had to slice
and dice the run-on sentence a bit, but kept the point intact :):
?Even [if] all your symptoms might not be resolved right away, the
fact that you are using a hormone compound that is an exact molecular
match to what your body *made* [makes it] much more effective [with]
less, if any negative side effects because the body doesn't have all
these foreign compounds to try and assimilate, [which], to me, makes
it worth it.? <
Proponents of traditional HRT often argue that its
osteoporosis-fighting properties outweigh its drawbacks. Other
research indicates that conventional HRT may be effective against
Alzheimer?s disease, high cholesterol, colon and endometrial cancers,
and macular degeneration. However, should these claims prove true,
they would be true of all HT, synthetic or natural. This begs the
question ? why pick the one with the side effects? The following, from
?The Risk of Hormone Replacement Therapy? by the Physicians Committee
for Responsible Medicine, discusses the effectiveness of natural
progesterone in protecting against osteoporosis:
?When osteoporosis has developed, a different hormone, called natural
progesterone, has demonstrated the ability to actually encourage new
bone growth. Unlike estrogens, which simply slow bone loss,
progesterone actually increases bone density. It is derived from yams
or soybeans, has no significant side effects, and is sold without a
prescription as a transdermal cream.?
Dr. John R. Lee, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About
Menopause, concurs, while describing further benefits:
?Physicians have been using NHRT to increase bone density up to 14%
per year in osteoporosis patients. Fibrocystic, lumpy and painful
breasts resolve rapidly with a natural progesterone supplementation
regimen. I have a thick file of testimonials from delighted women who
report that they are pain-free for the first time in years. Women on
NHRT are much less likely to suffer from depression, obesity,
hypothyroidism and many other illnesses associated with hormone
imbalance. NHRT also tends to restore libido, usually without
resorting to testosterone supplementation.?
< http://www.natural-success.com/JLMD_LtrToDocs.html >
Again, women might find the same menopausal relief in traditional HRT,
but at what risk?
You?ll note that the above examples refer only to natural
progesterone, one of several hormones implicated in hormone therapy;
the others are estrogen, progesterone and DHEA. To begin NHRT, you?ll
need to see a compounding pharmacist.
This brings us to one of the major benefits of NHRT. Traditional HRT
is a one-size-fits-all approach to hormone replacement therapy. With
NHRT, however, the dosage and balance of sex hormones are tailored to
the individual woman. This involves discussing NHRT with your doctor,
and because natural hormones are not readily available from drug
companies, visiting a compounding pharmacy for a custom mix. According
to Women?s Health America, ?Individualization includes testing a
woman?s current hormone levels, determining the specific combination
of hormones she requires, and prescribing at the lowest effective
dosage, thereby minimizing unwanted effects. These prescriptions can
be administered in a variety of forms including tablets, capsules,
patches, and creams.?
< http://www.womenshealth.com/library/hrt_conf.html >
It may take a little time to find the ideal dosage for your needs,
according to the Natural Medicine Clinic of Chicago?s Caring Medical.
?It often takes several months to determine the optimum dosages for
NHRT,? their site explains. ?During this time it is possible to
experience some unwanted side effects such as bloating, menstrual
bleeding, and others, but the long term effects are well worth it.?
< http://www.caringmedical.com/therapies/nathormonereplace.asp >
You may have to educate your doctor a bit when it comes to NHRT ?
because naturally occurring substances can?t be patented, drug
companies don?t have enough financial interest in NHRT to produce
natural hormone products, thus making NHRT a less visible alternative,
even to some health professionals.
When it comes down to it, deciding if and how to pursue hormone
therapy is a deeply personal choice. However, you may be interested in
the fact that aside from the initial adjustment side effects mentioned
above, I found no evidence of side effects from natural hormone
replacement therapy, compared to the many associated with synthetic
hormone therapy. While this isn?t to say there are none, my
preliminary research suggests that there?s much less cause for
Here are some resources you may wish to check out:
The Anti-Aging Institute ? Hormone Replacement Therapy FAQ
< http://www.anti-aging.org/hormone.html >
Canadian Women?s Health Network Hormone Therapy (HT) FAQ
< http://www.cwhn.ca/resources/faq/what-is-ht.html >
CBS News/ Dangers of Hormone Replacement?
< http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/06/25/earlyshow/health/main560448.shtml >
Eric?s Natural Pharmacy ? Natural Hormone Replacement
< http://www.ericsnaturalpharmacy.com/hormone.htm >
HRT ? The right regimen for you
< http://www.womenshealth.com/hrtregimen.html >
Women?s Health America ? Natural HRT
< http://www.womenshealth.com/naturalhrt.html >
I used the following search strings to find your answer:
natural hormone replacement therapy
advantages benefits nhrt
Please let me know if I can be of further assistance!
Clarification of Answer by
30 Apr 2004 12:12 PDT
Hello again, aane!
Because NHRT's natural hormones are bio-identical to those produced by
women, they are recognized and easily integrated by the body, making
the risk of side effects minimal. While most experts are reluctant to
say there are absolutely no risks in taking NHRT, the general
consensus seems to be that side effects are unlikely and often related
to large dosage amounts. Lise Cloutier-Steele, in an article
subsection titled "But is NHRT any safer," shares the following:
"In his December 2002 newsletter on nutrition and healing, Dr.
Jonathan V. Wright of Washington says that in the 20 years that he has
prescribed NHRT for his patients, he has always been very careful
about explaining that even natural treatments are not entirely safe.
But he adds that he believes the bio-identical estrogens, progesterone
and testosterone are safer than estrogens made up of horse urine. He
cautions that large quantities of bio-identical estrogens can raise a
woman's risk of blood clots or stroke; however, he explains that these
risks are preventable if a woman adds omega-3 fatty acids (one
tablespoonful of cod liver oil) and vitamin E (400 IU) to her daily
regime. Finally, Dr. Wright says that it's better to be safe than
sorry, and recommends close monitoring by your doctor to make sure
that your natural hormone therapies remain safe and effective."
< http://pinksunrise.com/hotflash/cloutier.htm >
Catherine P. Rollins, referring specifically to natural progesterone
in "Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) Offers Women
Hope," offers this:
"It is referred to as 'natural' because the end result represents the
same (bio-identical) molecule naturally occurring in the body. It can,
therefore, be introduced into the body with a relative margin of
safety as progesterone replacement therapy with minimal side effects
because the body recognises it."
The Portland Professional Pharmacy is a bit more cautious, speaking of
"reduced" side effects as compared with traditional HRT:
"Clinical experience with nHRT has demonstrated that bio-identical
hormones produce the desired result while reducing some unwanted side
effects such as hot flashes, weight gain, depression and fatigue,
commonly reported side effects of synthetic hormone preparations."
< http://www.portlandpharmacy.com/new/ishrt.htm >
On the other hand, the Anti-Aging Institute, in its HRT FAQ, has no
reservations in bluntly stating that "There are no ill side effects
from the hormones when given to achieve a normal physiological range.
Most symptoms occur from increased or decreased levels of hormones.
Hence the importance of monitoring."
< http://www.anti-aging.org/hormone.html >
It seems, then, that NHRT is largely safe, and certainly much less
likely to produce side effects than conventional hormone replacement
therapy. A final word of caution: if purchasing non-prescription
hormone creams (eg natural progesterone), always make sure that the
product is standardized.
I used the following searches for this clarification:
Side effects nhrt
I hope this has provided some clarification. All the best!