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Hormones are a natural and essential part of the human body, but they can sometimes feel like a mystery. If you’re approaching your golden years or are already there, it’s more important than ever to have a basic understanding of how hormones work and how they change throughout your lifetime. Here’s an introduction to hormones and the benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) so you can make informed decisions about your health.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that help regulate various processes in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, and reproductive cycles. They are produced by glands in the endocrine system and released into the bloodstream, where they travel to different parts of the body to do their work.
Hormones play an important role at every stage of life, but their levels change as we age. For example, both men and women experience a drop in sex hormone levels as they get older. This can lead to changes in libido, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and other issues. It’s important to understand these changes so you can take steps to stay healthy and happy throughout your later years.
Men’s Hormonal Changes
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. It plays a role in sperm production, bone density, muscle mass, and red blood cell production. However, testosterone levels naturally decline with age, leading to reduced muscle mass, slower metabolism, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and depressed mood.
Women’s Hormonal Changes
Estrogen is the primary sex hormone in women. It regulates the menstrual cycle and helps maintain bone density and vaginal lubrication. Like testosterone, estrogen levels naturally decline with age. This can cause hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, weight gain, and mood swings.
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What Is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
As we’ve just learned, when we age, our bodies undergo many changes. For women especially, menopause can cause various symptoms that can be uncomfortable and downright inconvenient. Hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, and brain fog are just some of the issues that can arise.
One potential solution many women (and men) turn to is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is designed to supplement the hormones that our bodies are no longer producing as we age. But what exactly is HRT?
There are two main types: synthetic hormone replacement therapy and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy
Synthetic HRT uses manufactured hormones designed to mimic the hormones our bodies produce naturally. These hormones are typically made in a laboratory using chemicals or extracted from animals. One of the most common synthetic HRTs is Premarin, made from pregnant mares’ urine.
There are a few different synthetic HRTs on the market. They can be taken in pill form, as a skin patch, or via vaginal cream or suppository. The pill form is taken orally, while the patch and cream/suppository forms provide more localized hormone treatment.
There was controversy about the safety of this treatment in its early days. However, since 2006, new examinations by researchers of existing studies and data have found more promising results about HRT’s risks and benefits.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bioidentical HRTs use hormones identical to the ones our bodies produce naturally. These hormones are derived from plants, such as yams or soybeans. Bioidentical HRTs can be taken in pill form, via skin patch, gel, injection, or pellet implant. Pellet implants are inserted beneath the skin and release small doses of hormones over time and typically need to be replaced every three to six months.
Are There Any Risks Associated with HRT?
As with any medication or treatment, there are always potential risks involved with hormone replacement therapy. The most common side effects are headaches, nausea, bloating, and breast tenderness. More serious risks include blood clots, stroke, and cancer. However, it’s important to remember that these risks are relatively rare. Millions of people safely undergo hormone replacement therapy every year without any problems.
Which One Is Right for Me?
The answer to this is one you reach with your doctor. Some things to consider include your health history (including any family history), your personal preferences, your symptom severity, and whether you have any other health conditions that need to be taken into account.
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Your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of each type of HRT and make a recommendation based on what they feel would be best for you as an individual patient.
What Are the Benefits of HRT?
For many people, the potential risks associated with hormone replacement therapy are outweighed by the benefits. HRT can provide relief from a wide variety of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, and brain fog. It can also help to better sleep quality, sex drive, and vaginal lubrication. In addition, HRT can help to prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of heart disease. For men, HRT can improve erectile dysfunction and increase muscle mass.
How to Get Started
The process begins with simple hormone imbalance testing. Once your hormone levels have been determined, your doctor can develop a treatment plan tailored specifically for you. The great thing about HRT, especially BHRT, is that it can be completely customized to meet your unique needs.
Recap and Final Thoughts
Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment that involves taking hormones to supplement the ones your body is no longer producing. There are two main types of hormone replacement therapy: synthetic and bioidentical. Both types of hormone replacement therapy can be effective for treating the symptoms of hormone decline, such as fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, sleep quality, moodiness, mental clarity, bone density, and sexual function.
Although there might be some risks associated with HRT, the potential benefits often outweigh these risks for many people. If you’re thinking about hormone replacement therapy, be sure to discuss all of your options with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.