Before 2002 hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, was often used to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and to protect aging women from long-term health conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis.
In 2002 a large clinical trial uncovered several health risks of the treatment, like heart attack, stroke and cancer, which outweighed the treatment’s benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. As a result, doctors prescribed the therapy less and many women taking the medication discontinued it.
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that HRT be used only in women who have severe menopausal symptoms, according to WebMD. It does not recommend HRT for disease prevention.
That appears to leave women who need better balance in their bodies with only a highly risky option, right?
No. There is a much safer option out there. It’s called natural hormone replacement therapy, or NHRT.
Natural hormones can provide the intended benefits of synthetic hormones such as Premarin and Prempro, without the side effects, says Eric Sauer, owner of The Natural Pharmacy in Ocean, N.J.
Natural hormones are derived from wild yams and are converted to hormones that are identical, also called bio-identical, to the hormones made by the human body, according to The Natural Pharmacy’s website. These hormones match exactly what the human body produces at the molecular level. They are used by compounding pharmacists like Eric, who custom prepare each prescription dosage to meet each patient’s individual needs.
Patented, synthetic hormones have an altered chemical structure that may resemble what the body naturally produces but that do not match what the body produces.
Synthetic hormones follow a different, slower metabolic pathway than bio-identical hormones, which means synthetic hormones can stay in the body and accumulate, acting stronger, possibly inducing cancers and leading to many other potential side effects like bloating and weight gain.
Yam-based bio-identical hormones follow a cancer-free pathway and are nearly risk-free. Eric, who’s been a pharmacist for nearly 30 years, says only about 1% of patients are unable to take these natural hormones.
Plus, bio-identical plant-derived hormone products have been safely prescribed by European physicians for more than 50 years.
Patented, synthetic hormones dominate the medical market compared to bio-identical hormones because natural products like bio-identical hormones are not patentable, just like rain or a flower isn’t patentable.
Patented, unique products like synthetic hormones are a top source of profit for drug companies.
Natural hormone replacement therapy can be used for more than just menopausal symptoms. It also may help protect against heart disease and endometrial and breast cancers, promote stronger bones and protect against osteoporosis, improve concentration and memory, reduce symptoms of depression, promote fat burning for energy, alleviate sleeping issues, and help with infertility.
Why are female hormone levels imbalanced? Eric cites stress as a top reason, as well as poor diet and genetics.
The Calming Hormone
The hormone progesterone plays a crucial role in helping maintain balance, particularly for stress-related issues.
“It’s the only calming hormone in your body,” Eric says, adding that other hormones like testosterone and cortisol excite the body.
Stress depletes progesterone, which leads to symptoms like depression, anxiety and mood swings as well as other common symptoms that a patient might regard as normal, such as trouble sleeping, headaches and migraines, memory loss and weight gain.
“Women are not depressed. They are depleted,” Eric says. “When you replenish the progesterone, the depression goes away.” He teaches patients how to “slide the scale” as stress levels increase and decrease. As stress rises and progesterone levels fall, patients can take more bio-identical progesterone to replace what’s depleted.
Patients can start to feel the effects of natural hormone replacement therapy in a few days. For some women it can take up to 60 days, Eric says.
The Cause of PMS
Low progesterone also leads to those unpleasant symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, like migraines, mood swings and cramping. Females as young as 13 who are menstruating can be evaluated to see whether they should begin taking a natural progesterone replacement. Instead of taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen to mask the symptoms of PMS, they can begin NHRT to bring the body back to its balanced state, which naturally eliminates the symptoms. Eric says it usually takes about 10 months to a year to get the body back to a balanced state in this case.
With NHRT, progesterone acts as a nutrient, not a drug, Eric says. There is little to no risk factor and the patient can take it on a schedule, such as two weeks on, two weeks off, for any length of time.
In addition to bringing the body back to hormone balance, progesterone raises the HDL “good” cholesterol, helps prevent hair loss and helps promote stronger bones, among other benefits.
Eric suggests a saliva test to measure hormone levels. Saliva tests are more accurate than blood tests because they measure the amount of hormones to which the body tissues are truly being exposed. Blood tests are less accurate because they pick up those hormones that are bound to red blood cells and inactive.
Saliva tests also are less expensive than blood tests. Multiple saliva tests can easily be taken over a period of time to measure fluctuating hormone levels.
Eric usually uses lozenges to administer the hormones, which are out of the body in 12 hours. Each dosage is compounded according to the patient’s unique needs.
NHRT also may be appropriate for men. As men age their estrogen levels rise and their testosterone levels decline. Progesterone may help balance their hormones, although the dosage is less than for women, Eric says.
Eric, who has been working with bio-identical hormones for about 15 years, includes both the patient and the doctor in each case to identify the patient’s needs. “You always have to keep a doctor in the loop,” he says.
Natural hormone replacement therapy is available only by prescription.
How It Works
If a patient is currently on medication such as the antidepressant Prozac, Eric keeps her on the medication, evaluates her diet and adds progesterone to bring hormonal balance back and eliminate the depressive symptoms. Slowly, he weans the patient off the medication. Many patients stop taking the medication altogether during this process, while others continue it at a lower dosage for added support.
“It’s wonderful when they get balanced and are no longer on medication,” Eric says.
For more information about Eric Sauer and his pharmacy, visit the pharmacy’s website at http://www.ericsnaturalpharmacy.com/. Eric, who also provides enzyme therapy, will be featured on the AMC Network’s “Enzymes/Baby Boomers” show on Dec. 19.
– By Jessica Braun
Jessica Braun is an associate editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.