by Ginger Marin
The mind-body connection posits that a well mind provides for a well body and vice versa. So when it comes to aging and brain health, one must also take into consideration the state of one’s hormones.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are the body’s messengers that transport important information from the brain to the glands and from the glands onto the cells and from the cells back to the brain. They serve to rejuvenate, regenerate and restore our bodies. Hormones are considered optimum from the age of 25 – 30 years. This is the same period, generally, in which our bodies are at their strongest and healthiest.
What Causes Aging?
Hormone levels progressively decrease during our lifetimes causing the changes in our bodies and minds that we call aging. The human body was never designed to live as long as we’re living today. Thanks to advances in medical care and sanitation, we have drastically increased life spans. However, the glands that produce our hormones do not regenerate and continue to decline, producing fewer hormones with each passing year.
Associated with this process is the onset of overt diseases, changes in mood, dysfunctional memory, decreased ability to learn, decrease in hair growth and graying, decreased quality of facial skin, decreased lean body mass with an increase in percent body fat, infections, cancer, decreased wound healing, diminished sex drive and many other aspects that represent our quality of life and youthfulness.
The Need for Hormone Replacement
It has become increasingly important for both men and women to keep their hormones balanced to protect against these age-related ravages and to enjoy an overall sense of well being. Diet and exercise alone will not be as effective unless a person’s hormones are balanced correctly. For optimal safety, only hormones that are low should be replaced and retesting of hormone levels should be done regularly.
Bio-identical hormones are manufactured in the lab to have the same molecular structure as the hormones made by your own body. They could also be called human-identical hormones.
Bio-Identical vs Synthetic
Bio-identical (also called bio-equivalent) hormones get their start in nature and are found in soy beans, wild yams, red clover and black cohash. The human body can recognize these bio-identical hormones and can use them just as it would as if produced by the ovaries, testes, or adrenal glands. Most side-effects experienced with bio-identical hormones are associated with either an incorrect dosing or an imbalance in the selection of the hormones.
By contrast, synthetic hormones are intentionally different. Drug companies cannot patent a bio-identical structure, so instead, they invent synthetic hormones that are patentable (such as Premarin, Prempro and Provera, the most widely used examples). Synthetic hormones are not easily recognized by the body even though they may produce similar effects. Because they are hundreds of times more potent than the hormones that our body makes, they are often associated with significant side effects.
Though bio-identical hormones have been around for years, many practitioners are unfamiliar with them. There are several branded versions now available for use in the kind of hormone replacement therapy (“HRT”) typical of synthetic hormones. This is generally a one-size-fits-all dosage regime.
The greatest success, however, is with an individualized approach. Laboratory tests of hormone levels should be done (a “hormone panel”) to determine the state of a patient’s levels. If and when warranted, a precise dosage is prescribed of bioidentical estrogen, progesterone, testosterone or DHEA that is made up at a compounding pharmacy. Each patient is then monitored carefully through regular follow-up hormone panels to ensure symptom relief at the lowest possible dosage.
In the initial stages, a hormone panel might be taken every three months. That way, the doctor has the opportunity to fine tune the final prescription to address any personal goals. Whether this might mean an increase in mental acuity, improvement in depression and moods, increase in sexual drive, or improved physical ability; slight variations in the dosage, or dosage form, can often provide the sought after results. Once balance is restored, a panel may be taken only once a year.
HRT: Pills vs Topical Creams
It would seem reasonable that the easiest way to take hormones is by swallowing a pill. Unfortunately, once the hormones are absorbed by the blood they go directly to the liver where some of the hormones are inactivated.
Topically applied hormones are absorbed directly from the skin right into the blood where they immediately start working. Eventually, all chemicals end up in the liver being inactivated and/or converted to other substances. Another benefit of using topical creams is that dosage can be easily adjusted by increasing or decreasing the number of applications per day.
An important aspect to Compounded Bio-Identical Hormones is whether-or-not they have been tested for bio-availability. That is, once applied to the skin, the component hormones are easily absorbed from the cream, through the skin, and into the blood. Each component hormone and blended preparation of hormones have been tested extensively during the Federal Application and Patent application process. Each customized preparation is designed based upon laboratory testing and the personal goals of the patient.
Bio-identical hormones are better and safer than synthetic hormones. Our body can metabolize bio-identical hormones as it was designed to do, thereby minimizing side effects. Compounded bio-identical hormones can be matched individually to each woman’s (or man’s) needs, something that’s not possible with mass-produced products. Synthetic hormones, on the other hand, are quite strong and often produce intolerable side effects. And many European medical studies suggest that bio-identical hormones are indeed safer than synthetic versions.
It should be noted that the original studies on the effectiveness and health risks associated with HRT were based solely on synthetic/equine-based hormones.