To Menopause or not to Menopause? That is the Question

Imagine that you are traveling through the journey of life and you come to a fork in the road. As you stand at the fork, looking left, then right, you can clearly see down each path. Obviously, others have traveled this path before because the terrain is well-worn. You discover that your decision as to which path to travel has been aided by a road sign.

The sign pointing to the left reads as follows: “Travel here for hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, insomnia, weight gain, low libido, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, rapid heart beat, dry thin skin, headaches, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, urinary incontinence, hair loss, and osteoporosis.”

The sign pointing to the right reads: “Vibrant living ahead.”

Which path will you choose? To menopause or not to menopause? That is the question.

For most of our history as humans on this earth, women did not have such a choice. For most of our existance, the life expectancy of a woman did not allow most women to reach the age of menopause. They died before they got there. For those rare and lucky women who reached the ripe old age which lead to menopause, they suffered in silence as the sweat of the hot flashes poured off their chins, and they soaked their own beds night after night. Then along came hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Suddenly everything changed. Finally, women had the right to “opt-in” and go through menopause, or “opt-out” and say “no thank you” to the misery.

For many years the only “opt-out” options were synthetic drugs such as Premarin, Provera, and PremPro. Now at this point, I have a confession to make. When I was a young doctor (many years ago), just about every woman who came through our clinic was placed on PremPro. This is an artificial patented drug, that is not a true human hormone, but has hormone like activity. The mantra we all learned was that the women who received PremPro were going to live longer and better. This notion had been drilled into our heads since we were medical students. We bought it hook, line, and sinker. Everything was hunky-dory until the drug companies made the mistake of doing a major study attempting to show what a great drug they had, and how smart we all were for prescribing it. Unfortunately for us all, the studies didn’t show what they thought they would. In fact, they had to halt the studies half way through because so many women were being affected by heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, and blood clots. Many women were taken off these drugs without being offered any alternative. Others were left on the drugs only to take their chances with the consequences.

Meanwhile in Europe, for the last fifty years women have been offered another option called bioidentical hormones. These are compounds which are made to be 100% exactly the same as the natural human hormones they are intended to supplement. The body cannot tell the difference between its own hormones and bioidential hormones, because there is no difference.

For example, if your body is low on potassium, do you eat a banana, or do you take some patented drug that your body has never seen before which has been synthesized to have potassium like activity, but lots of negative side effects. It seems clear to me that most people would wisely choose to eat the banana. Likewise, it seems only reasonable to chose the bioidentical hormones which are just exactly like the body’s own natural hormones.

At this point as one is standing at the fork in the road, it seems to boil down to risk and benefit. In the big picture the evidence seems to support that bioidentical hormone therapy, if used properly, can help a woman live longer and better. Here are a few examples:

*A study publishes in the journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology” showed that women who took estrogen lived longer than women who did not take estrogen.

*A study in the medical journal Lancet showed that women who took transdermal estrogen had less blood clots than women who took Placebo.

*A huge study in the International Journal of Cancer showed that women who took a combination of bio-identical estrogen and progesterone had less breast cancer than women who took placebo.

*A study in JAMA showed that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was significantly reduced in women on hormone replacement therapy.

*Numerous quality studies have shown heart protective benefits of women who start hormone replacement early in menopause.

*Another study in JAMA showed a significant improvement in cognitive function (memory and thinking skills) in women who took hormone replacement therapy.

*Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy can help to reduce hip fractures in osteoporotic women.

*Major studies have also shown that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can reduce the incidence of colon cancer.

*A study in the International Journal of Dermatology showed that hormones can significantly reduce skin wrinkle depth, and improves thickness and elasticity of skin.

*Numerous studies have proven that HRT can help to boost a sagging libido.

*Studies have clearly shown that HRT is effective in treating vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, and pain with intercourse.

*HRT can be a miracle cure for those awful hot flashes, night sweats, as well as the associated insomnia.

HRT is not for everybody. However as you approach the crossroads of menopause, it’s important to know that you have a choice. Carefully consider your options. The right choice for one woman may not work for another. For many women, the right choice is a carefully designed, evidence based, closely monitored, customized plan of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which will help her live a longer and more vibrant life.

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