Relief from the symptoms of menopause and PMS has been a quest for countless women over the centuries. Natural hormone remedies have been used by women throughout history; however, modern medicine decided they could do better by introducing synthetic hormone replacement therapy to provide a quick, easy solution to so-called “women’s issues”. In our “pop a pill” society, the use of such drugs was a big hit, and millions of women trusted their doctor’s recommendations that this was a safe, effective alternative. However, as it turns out, the use of synthetic hormone replacement therapy was eventually discovered to be a dangerous course of action that exposed hundreds of thousands of women to greater risks for certain deadly diseases.
Let’s dive into the subject of synthetic hormone replacement therapy — What is it? — What are the basics? — What are the side-effects and dangers of HRT? — and, What are safe and effective alternatives to synthetic hormone therapy?
What is Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or menopause hormone therapy (MHT) as it is currently called, was originally known as Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT), since estrogen was the only hormone involved. Since the 1960’s, it is more commonly known as HRT because combinations of estrogen and progestin are used as well as, less commonly, estrogen alone. HRT is a treatment that seeks to artificially control the balance of hormones, mainly estrogen, in the body. It is most often prescribed for menopausal and premenopausal women, although a small percentage of HRT has other applications such as a usage in women after a hysterectomy or in certain transgender situations.
HRT is a classic example of how modern medicine takes risks by toying with the natural balance and order of life. Once considered a boon to women everywhere, it soon became apparent that HRT was a tragic mistake that cost many women their wellness and even their lives in some cases. HRT was originally thought to decrease many of the unwanted side-effects of menopause and to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease in older women. Not only was this proven wrong, but in fact HRT has increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and many other dangerous conditions. Even the mainstream medical community was forced to admit that the risks of HRT far outweigh the potential benefits.
What Are the Basics of HRT?
HRT was a standard prescription for the relief of menopausal symptoms for many years. It was given to alleviate common menopausal effects thatresult from diminished amounts of hormones such as estrogen in the system of older women. These symptoms included hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep dysfunction, lowered libido, and mood swings. Everything changed in 2002 when the medical community was turned on its head by the discovery that HRT was a very risky procedure that exposed women to several critical diseases. The National Institutes of Health released findings in a study they had conducted that indicted HRT with increasing the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and dementia. The study was called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), and it changed the thinking on the risks vs. benefits of HRT forever.
Ample medical research regarding progesterone was carried on from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, and was well reported in mainline, recognized medical literature. Since the early 1970’s, however, medical research became much more expensive and the grants subsidizing progesterone research, or any unpatentable medicine and treatment technique, dried up. Funds supported synthetic drugs, particularly progestins, because they were patentable and because they brought in huge amounts of money.
The administration of synthetic hormone therapy is still in use today, but the medical community has changed the way they recommend it. Long-term use is very rare today, but short-term use of HRT (4 years or less) is still often recommended, despite the known risks. Be aware that many doctors do not believe a difference exists between HRT / MHT and BHRT (bioidentical hormone replacement therapy). Even though conventional medicine refuses to recognize a difference, doesn’t mean they are correct.
The Two Major Forms of Synthetic HRT
1. Combination of synthetic estrogen and synthetic progestin
This is the most common form of HRT, and is also associated with the most dangerous side-effects. In addition to the risks, it has also been proven that for many menopausal symptoms, the benefit of these drugs is minimal at best. These include emotional health such as mood swings and depression, lowered sexual desire, sleep disorders, and overall energy levels. Relief from hot flashes and vaginal dryness are the most commonly reported benefits, but the dangers far outweigh any benefits gained. Below is a summary of the down-side of synthetic HRT with combination hormones:
- A 26% increase in the risk for breast cancer. This so alarmed researchers, that this phase of the WHI was cut prematurely due to the dangers.
- A 29% increase in heart attacks for women taking estrogen and progestin. This was the exact opposite of what proponents of HRT had been preaching-that its use would reduce heart disease in older women. It was thought that more estrogen would decrease “bad” cholesterol levels, while simultaneously raising “good” cholesterol levels. This thinking backfired, as is so often the case when we try to take things into our own hands instead of letting nature take its course.
- A 41% increase in strokes. Obviously these drugs are not good for the cardiovascular system.
- Blood clots: Increased amounts of synthetic estrogen cause a significant rise in the risk for dangerous blood clots too. This is also the case with women who are taking birth control pills.
- Osteoporosis: While studies have shown that there may be a short-term benefit for better bone density to prevent fractures, if HRT is discontinued, the benefit stops immediately. In order for women in the 75-80 year old age bracket to maintain greater bone density through the use of artificial hormones, HRT must be continued long term, something even mainstream medicine recommends as a dangerous practice. Surely there must be a better way to strengthen bones than to sacrifice your health. And, there certainly is, as we will discuss below.
2. Estrogen-Alone Therapy
This form of synthetic HRT, which is becoming more and more popular again using smaller doses, is mainly prescribed for women who have had surgery such as a hysterectomy, in order to help them through what amounts to artificially induced menopause.
Research indicates the following dangers associated with estrogen-alone therapy:
The estrogen only phase of the WHI was stopped early because the use of this form of HRT drastically increased the rate of stroke in women.
- Ovarian cancer
The National Cancer Institute reported findings in 2002 that the use of estrogen alone increased the risk for ovarian cancer. Long-term use (20 years or more) triples one’s risk for ovarian cancer.
- Uterine/Endometrial cancer
Women who use estrogen-alone HRT have a 6-8 times greater chance of developing these types of cancers because of estrogen dominance.
Other Side Effects of Synthetic Hormone Therapy
- Uterine fibroids
- Liver damage
- Gall bladder damage
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Birth defects
- Difficulties giving birth
- Vision dysfunction
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Hair loss
- Leg cramps
Higher dosages of these dangerous drugs are even more hazardous. Sometimes they are given in quite large dosages to people who have chosen to undergo a sex change operation, in order to stimulate their bodies to take on the characteristics of the opposite sex. Another scary application is when artificial hormones are given to young children who were born without identifiable sex organs, and were therefore assigned a gender chosen by the parents and the doctor. This is also used to stimulate the body in the direction of the chosen sex, or to correct a choice that was obviously the wrong gender when the child grows older. All the psychological implications of such applications aside, the potential physical dangers are immense.
Considering the potentially fatal diseases and severe side effects associated with synthetic hormone replacement therapy, it seems a foolish choice indeed, especially when much less dangerous and more effective means are available to deal with the unpleasant side of menopause.
Is Menopause Really an Illness?
Another factor involved with this whole issue is the fact that menopause is often looked upon as an “illness” rather than just a natural phase of a woman’s life that can be managed in a much more natural way without taking unnatural drugs to eliminate or minimize the whole process. This attitude, promoted by conventional medicine, is largely the result of our society’s undue emphasis on youth and physical beauty, especially in women.
The truth is that menopause is a normal part of the life-cycle that is better off left to natural or bioidentical solutions for the common symptoms that may develop. The words “bioidentical hormones” means that the biochemical structure of the hormone is identical to the hormones that are naturally produced in a woman’s body. In other words, the body recognizes bioidentical hormones and is not easily fooled with synthetic hormones. Neither a horse’s hormone nor an artificially contrived formula, although similar in makeup, can safely replace the natural hormones that a woman produces. There is a reason for everything, and letting menopause run its course with natural and bioidentical intervention, if needed, provides many benefits — some that we have not even begun to understand. Personally, I believe a change in mindset is in order. Practitioners should encourage women in understanding that menopause is actually the beginning of a new stage in life, rather than insinuating it relates to the end of youth and sexuality.
What Natural Alternatives Are Available for Managing Menopause?
Natural Progesterone Cream
To bring stability to your life during menopause, I recommend the use of an all natural, bioidentical progesterone cream. Choose one that is free of toxic chemicals and clearly lists the amount of progesterone per ounce. Human-identical progesterone creams do not have the dangerous side effects that synthetic hormones do, and a product such as this is a safe, effective alternative to standard HRT. Natural progesterone creams can also be used to help with PMS symptoms, and men can use them as well to deal with fluctuations in their hormone levels. They are not, however, recommended for young boys, as these hormones may interfere with the normal maturation of sperm.
Every woman is different when it comes to their perfect dosage of natural progesterone, so it may take a bit to find what works best for you. A knowledgeable practitioner can help you find what works for you. The most important factor when choosing a natural progesterone cream is to make sure that there are no artificial hormones or toxic ingredients in the formula.
Organic herbs can also play an important part in helping relieve some of the many symptoms of hormone imbalance. In fact, herbs have been used for relieving the symptoms of “women’s issues” for centuries. It is important to note that symptom relief does not equal hormone balance nor does it indicate that a health issue has healed. In fact, although herbs can provide some symptom relief, once the herbs are stopped, most women find their symptoms come back — sometimes with a vengeance. This can also happen with natural progesterone, if one is not sure how to effectively get their hormones in balance.
“Even though young women are seldom concerned about menopause, a life long commitment to women’s wellness should be taught early-on that includes the importance of: eating a healthy diet centered on whole foods and lots of organic fruits and vegetables, eliminating refined sugar, organic supplements, choosing non-toxic personal care products, and regular exercise — all of which are the safest and most natural ways to avoid heart disease and osteoporosis as women age.”
Loretta Lanphier, Naturopathic Practitioner
Besides using a natural progesterone cream, the most effective steps you can take to protect your health and ease symptoms of menopause begin, or at least hould begin, long before the onset of menopause. Even though young women are seldom concerned about menopause, a life long commitment to women’s wellness should be taught early-on that includes the importance of: eating a healthy diet centered on whole foods and lots of organic fruits and vegetables, eliminating refined sugar, organic supplements, choosing non-toxic personal care products, and regular exercise — all of which are the safest and most natural ways to avoid heart disease and osteoporosis as women age. Exercises, such as walking, rebounding, and dancing, is particularly good for bone health and density.
Currently, an estimated 6,000 women in the USA reach menopause every day — that’s over 2 million women per year! In addition, more women are living beyond age 65. Menopause symptoms can be effectively managed in a natural, drug-free way that is beneficial to the health of these women, or it can be a profit-driven opportunity for Big Pharma to dispense their synthetic hormone replacement therapy indiscriminately. Currently mainstream medicine has backed off from wholesale recommendation of HRT, but they still insist that short-term usage of synthetic hormone replacement therapy can be beneficial to most women. My hope is that women will wake up, do their own research, ask questions and spread the word that there are safer and more effective ways to transition through this time in life we call menopause.
Research and Resources
DES History. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Report. Bioidentical Hormones: Why Are They Still Controversial? Life Extension Magazine October 2009.
Lee, John R. MD. 1994, Slowing the Aging Process with Natural Progesterone, BLL Publishing, California, USA, p. 12.
Lee, John R. MD. “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause” Warner Books, May, 1996.
Braverman, Eric. 1991. Natural estrogen and progesterone research indicates health benefits of natural vs. Synthetic hormones. Total Health 13, no. 5 (October): 55.
Effects of estradiol and progesterone on body composition, protein synthesis, and lipoprotein lipase in rats. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Mar;280(3):E496-501.
Importance of estrogen receptors in adipose tissue function. Mol Metab. 2013 Jul 6;2(3):130-2. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2013.07.001. eCollection 2013.
Stevenson, J.C., K.F. Ganger, et al. 1990. Effects of transdermal versus oral hormone replacement therapy on bone density in spine and proximal femur in postmenopausal women. Lancet 336:265-26.
Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, et al. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocr Rev. 2009;30(4):293–342. doi:10.1210/er.2009-0002.
Prior, JC. Progesterone as a bone-trophic hormone. Endocrine Reviews 1990; 11:386-398.
Peat, Ray. Aging, Estrogen and Progesterone. www.raypeat.com
Stephenson K, Price C, Kurdowska A, Neuenschwander P, Stephenson J, Pinson B,Stephenson D, Alfred D, Krupa A, Mahoney D, Zava D, Bevan M. Topical progesterone cream does not increase thrombotic and inflammatory factors in postmenopausal women. Presented at the 46th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology, San Diego, December 4-7, 2004.Blood 2004; 104(11): Abstract 5318.
Thyroid hormone stimulates progesterone release from human luteal cells by generating a proteinaceous factor. J Endocrinol. 1998 Sep;158(3):319-25.