Dr. Cara Flamer, BSc, M.D., CCFP – Toronto, ON

Bioidentical Hormones are natural hormones that are identical in structure to our body’s own hormones. They originate from either soy or wild yam plant sterols that are put through chemical steps in a lab that alter them to become identical to hormones made in the body. They differ from synthetic hormones because synthetic hormones are not identical to the body’s own hormones, and as a result they lead to the creation of metabolites that may be harmful to the body. Bioidentical hormones do not produce metabolites. Bioidentical hormones include estradiol, estrone, estriol, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone. Some bioidentical hormone therapies are available from drug companies as standard prescriptions, others must be compounded for the individual woman by a pharmacist. They come in the form of creams, pills, patches, gels or rings.

As we age, our hormone levels begin to drop off. This begins to occur after the age of 30. Some symptoms related to these hormonal changes include: headaches, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, bloating, heavy periods, water retention, depression, low sex drive, memory loss, PMS, hot flashes, and fatigue. Some signs that you have a hormonal imbalance include: low bone mineral density, recurrent miscarriages, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and fibrocystic breasts. Once the hormonal imbalance is identified, it can be corrected and many of these signs and symptoms can diminsish if not be eliminated entirely.

The following are some key hormones and some of the symptoms you may be experiencing if they are out of balance:

Estrogens: this includes estradiol, estrone, estriol. They are predominantly female hormones. Estrogens are made in the ovary and adrenal gland, and to a lesser extent in adipose (fat) cells. They are important for regulating the menstrual cycle but they also affect the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, blood vessels, the heart, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. Symptoms of estrogen deficiency include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, rapid skin aging, urinary problems, excessive bone loss, decreased memory and cognition. Symptoms of estrogen dominance (high estrogen) include fluid retention, weight gain (especially around the abdomen), migraines, fibrocystic breasts, , ovarian cysts, uterine hyperplasia.

Progesterone: Progesterone is a hormone made by the corpus luteum of the ovaries. It is involved in the production of estrogen in the ovaries, as well as DHEA and cortisol in the adrenal glands. Progesterone receptors exist in the uterus, brain, skin, thyroid, blood vessels, breasts and bones. It is an important hormone to counter-act the effects of estrogen in the body. Symptoms of low progesterone levels include anxiety, heavy periods, water retention, headaches, weight gain (usually around the abdomen), low bone density, irregular periods. Symptoms of high progesterone include drowsiness, acne, low libido, facial hair and depression.

Testosterone: Testosterone is important for healthy libido, muscle maintenance, bone, skin and heart health. Symptoms of low testosterone include fatigue, loss of strength/stamina, memory decline, low libido, muscle weakness, osteopenia, osteoporosis, insomnia, vaginal dryness. Symptoms of high testosterone include acne, oily skin, hair loss, diabetes, polycystic ovaries, weight gain. The decrease in testosterone occurs earlier and at a greater initial rate in women compared to men.

DHEA: DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. It is made in the adrenal glands. It peaks in the 20’s and then begins a slow decline. The symptoms of excess or deficient DHEA are similar to that of testosterone excess /deficiency.