You’ve been waiting for this stage of your life, perhaps even dreading it, and now it has arrived. Menopause. Suddenly the stories of hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings are not simply stories. They are your life. You’ve heard of hormone replacement therapy, but you’ve also heard about its risks. Now your doctor is telling you about another option for relieving symptoms of menopause—bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. What is it, and can it provide the relief you’re looking for?

What Is Menopause?

Menopause is a natural part of aging in a woman. A woman’s ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which are hormones important to reproduction. Some time after age 40, a woman’s ovaries begin to slow and then stop producing these hormones, and her menstrual periods stop. Menopause affects every woman differently, but typically, the reduced hormone levels cause symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, vaginal dryness, and loss of bladder control,

What Are Bio-Identical Hormones?

Bio-identical hormones are medicines that contain substances that are chemically identical to hormones produced naturally by the body. They are made from compounds found in plants such as soybeans and yams. They are manufactured commercially for hormone replacement therapy or custom-made by a compounding pharmacy on a patient-by-patient basis. The commercial products are regulated by the FDA, whereas the compounded preparations are not. One advantage that compounded products have is that they can be made into many forms, including capsules, liquids, lotions, sublingual pills, suppositories, and nasal sprays.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

When menopausal symptoms are severe, you might want to seek out a doctor’s help for reducing or eliminating them. He or she may recommend replacing the hormones that the ovaries are no longer producing. Your doctor can prescribe synthetic hormones to increase or stabilize your hormone levels, or he or she can prescribe bio-identical hormones.

Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy may increase your risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. Bio-identical hormones are considered a more “natural” alternative to synthetic hormones, and therefore safer. Your body cannot tell the difference between bio-identicals and the ones your body produces, and they act exactly like the ones your body produces. There currently is little evidence to support the theory that they carry fewer risks, but studies are ongoing.

If you and your doctor decide that bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is a good option for you, there are many products available. Your doctor can prescribe the one that is best for you and your situation. If you do decide to try this treatment, it’s important to use only enough to relieve symptoms and monitor yourself for signs of problems that may be related to hormone-replacement.