Should You Take Hormones?

One of the most confusing questions a woman faces is whether or not to take hormones. I encourage you to educate yourself about all the options, so you can work in partnership with your doctor to make the decision that’s right for you. Gone are the days when a woman would go to her physician and then docilely fill the prescription she is given without trying to understand how the medication will affect her body. And that’s great, especially when it comes to supporting your fluctuating hormone levels!


A one-size-fits-all approach to medicine is never good medicine – every woman is different. This is true of hormone therapy (HT), too. While there are norms, and low levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone will cause similar symptoms in all women, the solution that works for you can be as unique as you are. Some women need hormone therapy, while others will get tremendous relief with herbs, changes in diet (eliminating sugar is helpful), supplementation, and/or adding exercise.  


Even if you are someone who needs (or wants to try) hormone therapy, rest assured hormone therapy isn’t a life sentence. Menopause is not a medical condition that requires medication, especially not for life. Starting hormone therapy doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. And what you start with may or may not be the right thing for you in the future. It’s fine to adjust your dosage along the way. Many women reevaluate their HT annually, and taper off if they no longer need it.


When I was going through the menopausal transition, I decided to use a dusting of bioidentical hormones to help me feel more comfortable. I also took thyroid medication for a few years for a sluggish thyroid. Today, I don’t take either! My body was able to find a new equilibrium, and I don’t feel that I need bioidentical hormones or thyroid support to feel my best. If that changes, I can always opt for additional hormone support.


The years at midlife (and beyond) can be the best years of a woman’s life! And anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed. Just because you’re aging doesn’t mean you have to be laden with medical challenges. If you’re approaching menopause or in perimenopause and you aren’t feeling your best, give hormone therapy or some other therapy a try. There is no reason to suffer.


Before you visit your doctor, I suggest you learn about the three main sex hormones governing your cycles – estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Incidentally, these are the same hormones that have been fluctuating during your childbearing years. If you’re having hot flashes, your estrogen may be low. If you’re anxious, your progesterone may be low. Have you lost interest in sex? Perhaps your testosterone has dropped. (To learn all about hormones and how they change at midlife, read The Wisdom of Menopause.)


Of course “low” can be a relative term. You will feel best when these hormones levels are in the right proportion to one another. How do you know? Your doctor can run some tests, or you can do some testing yourself. (You can also look into home test kits.)


Many bioidentical options are available by prescription – and have been prescribed for years. Although these are excellent options, you don’t need to go to someone who specializes in bioidentical hormones or have a custom formulary compound created for you. Your traditional doctor can prescribe bioidentical hormones, which are available at most local pharmacies. Often, these drugs are paid for by insurance. (Refer to The Wisdom of Menopause for the names of the products made from bioidentical hormones. These are available from your doctor.)


Although a better option, even bioidentical hormones can present some risks to some women. Before you blindly take that pill or patch, learn about your personal health risk factors and weigh them against the risks associated with taking hormones long term. For example, if you have a family history of heart disease or osteoporosis, hormone therapy may be a good, long-term choice for you. The opposite is true for some women, too.


So, are hormones right for you? I know the number of options can be intimidating at first, but in the end, you’ll feel much better about your hormone therapy decision if you’re armed with facts, know your options, and are willing to listen to your inner guidance as well as your doctor’s advice. Although I discourage using hormone therapy as a means of numbing yourself to what is happening in your body and mind at menopause, there is nothing to be gained from feeling miserable.


Given the range of formulations and dosages now available – as well as the many alternatives to hormone therapy – you can create an individual treatment program that supports you through the change. Your mind, body and spirit will thank you for years to come. 


This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 
All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program. 

Added to Women's Health, menopause on Wed 08/01/2012