Health A to Z

Women’s Health: Women need more hormone knowledge

Doctor cautions there is no proof that bio-identical compounded hormones are any safer than conventional treatment

A small study suggests many women may be poorly informed about the safety and efficacy of an alternative to conventional postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy called bio-identical compounded hormones.

Bio-identical compounded hormone therapy has the same active ingredients used in conventional hormone replacement therapy: hormones that are biochemically identical to those produced by the body. However, instead of the standard doses available in commercially prepared HRT products, bio-identical compounded hormone therapy uses individualized doses custom-prepared by a pharmacist as gels, patches, lozenges, pills or in other forms. Both traditional and bio-identical hormone therapy require a prescription.

Dr. Lynne Shuster, director of the women’s health clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says use of bio-identical compounded hormone therapy appears to be rising as conventional hormone therapy declines. However, there is also a lot of confusion about bio-identical hormones.

“The translation to lay women is that these are natural hormones, and thus the perception is that they’re safer and that’s why women seek these hormones,” Shuster says. “Unfortunately we don’t have proof of that.”

Shuster and her colleagues surveyed 184 women attending their clinic for a menopausal consultation. About two-thirds of respondents had used some form of hormone therapy at some point, and more than one-third were currently using hormone therapy.

Among the 37 women who had used bio-identical compounded hormones, 24 of them (65 per cent) believed they were safer than conventional hormone therapy. Seven users (19 per cent) did not believe they were safer, and six women (16 per cent) gave no response to the question.

Of the study participants who reported their sources of information about bio-identical compounded hormones (85 women), 41 per cent got information from media or celebrity advocates, 40 per cent received information from a health-care provider, 29 per cent received information from a friend and eight per cent from a family member. Most respondents reported more than one source of information.

“Women are getting information about these hormones from the media and it would be much better for them to be getting their information from their physicians so they can be appropriately informed that these hormones need to be considered to have the same benefits and risks overall compared to conventional hormones,” Shuster says.

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