All Natural Hormone Replacement

By Jill Stansbury

  • Overview

    With so many concerns about the safety of synthetic hormone replacement therapies, more and more women are seeking "natural hormones."
  • Why Natural Hormones?

    For many decades there have been concerns about hormones causing hormone-related cancers, such as breast cancer and endometrial cancer. More recently, research has emerged that confirms how damaging hormones are to the heart and blood vessels. It was noted decades ago that women who use birth control pills, a type of hormonal medication, were at increased risk of developing blood clots. This potential consequence of birth control use is particularly likely in women who smoke, so that many physicians would advise against the use of birth control pills in smokers. Now, similar consequences have been noted in the hearts and coronary arteries of women who use hormone replacement therapy. This, coupled with concerns over hormonal cancers, has millions of women searching for alternatives to alleviate menopausal symptoms and bulk up their bones.
  • "Natural" and "Unnatural" Hormones

    The typical type of hormones used for 40 or more years now have been synthetic. The molecules are close to the structure of actual estrogen and progesterone, but they are not identical. Thus, these synthetic hormones are the ones now placed under the "unnatural" heading. The so-called "bio-identical hormones" are gaining popularity and can be placed under the heading of "natural hormones." These hormones are identical to the hormones found in the human body and are believed to carry less risks than their synthetic counterparts. The field of bio-identical hormones is not yet a large industry; not every pharmacy is stocking the hormones and not every physician is aware of their existence or virtues, so you may have to search a bit to find someone to prescribe them for you. Phyto-hormones, or phyto-estrogens, are yet another category of natural hormones. Phyto-hormones are hormone-like molecules occurring naturally in plants. One popular example is Genistein, which occurs in soy beans and other members of the legume plant family. The details about how these work is quite technical and complex, but the bottom line is that phyto-hormones appear to offer weak hormonal effects without concerns of cancer or heart damage. In fact, as the research accumulates it appears that phyto-hormones have anticancer and heart protecting effects.

  • Natural Estrogen: The Finer Points

    What is commonly referred to as "estrogen" is really a group of 3 different hormones: estradiol, estriol and estrone. These hormones all occur naturally in the human body, each having their specific functions. Estradiol is the strongest acting of the three and, in a living body, is balanced by the other 2 estrogens, estriol and estrone. Pharmaceutical estrogen is most commonly estradiol because it has strong and rapid effects. However, being only 1 of the 3 estrogens, imbalances in the 3 estrogens may occur, and side affects emerge over time, such as hormone-related cancer and blood vessel damage. Bio-Identical hormones, in addition to being the identical molecules found in the human body, can also be combined in particular ratios that do not disrupt the balance between the 3 estrogens. Physicians who have made an effort to study and understand the complexities of these 3 estrogens can prepare very specific prescriptions for their patients, combing estradiol, estriol and estrone just so, as the case calls for.
  • Estrogen and Progesterone Balance

    Not only is the proportion of the various estrogens physiologically important, the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is also important. Progesterone appears to help temper the stimulating effects of estrogen on hormonally-responsive tissues on the breast and the uterus. For example, many women who begin birth control pills experience "break through bleeding," which refers to small to large amounts of bleeding early in the menstrual cycle. This occurs because the estrogen is stimulating the uterine lining, causing it to begin bleeding very early in the cycle. If a little more progesterone is added to the mix, the excessive stimulation of the endometrial lining can be mitigated. Therefore, the balance between progesterone and estrogen is also important. If a woman chooses to use estrogen at all, progesterone should be taken as well to help temper the proliferative effects of estrogen alone. Bio-identical forms of progesterone also exist.
  • Phyto-Hormone Options

    Soy products are among the most widely studied and widely available phyto-hormones, but many plants contain hormone-like molecules. Common licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) contains phyto-hormones. Wild yams (Dioscorrea) contains hormones that have been used as a raw material to make synthetic hormones. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga) contains isoflavones with hormonal activity, as well as other compounds that effect the brain's regulation of hormones. Other plants such as ginseng (Panax ginseng) contain a group of hormonal-like compounds called steroidal saponins. Study up and select a few supplements for yourself, or see a health professional knowledgeable about herbs, to discover which of the many phyto-hormone containing plants would be best for you.
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