Should You Try Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a strongly debated topic among women and their healthcare professionals. Before you fill that prescription, it’s important to know all the facts so you can make an informed decision.
Women deal with three phases of physical and hormonal changes after approximately age forty that can leave them feeling exhausted, sad, and overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many don’t know what to expect or what is considered normal or if there might be a problem.
Let’s exam these three stages in detail.
Perimenopause: What You Need to Know
This is when your production of estrogen and progesterone (the “female” hormones) begin to slow down. This transitional period of hormonal change can last anywhere from a few months to several years but may begin a decade before actual menopause. You may start noting signs of aging in your hair, skin, and nails
Perimenopause occurs as early as your 30s but most women enter this stage in their 40s. You could experience irregular menstruation, mild hot flashes, irritability, fluctuations in sexual libido, and other symptoms similar to menopause but you still get your periods and can still become pregnant.1
Menopause: What You Need to Know
One year after your final menstrual cycle, you’re considered to be in menopause. At this point, the female body is no longer able to reproduce because it no longer releases eggs to be fertilized. Menopause generally lasts about four years but some women experience menopause for just a few months.
The average age in the United States for menopause to occur is between 45-55 years old. Women who go through it earlier are considered prematurely menopausal. This can be the result of having a surgical procedure (such as a hysterectomy) or damage to the reproductive organs.
Every day, approximately 5,000 American women enter menopause. Common symptoms include hot flashes, unusual dryness (skin, eyes, mouth, or vagina), difficulty sleeping, mood swings, tenderness of the breasts, body aches, weight gain, and changes to sexual libido.2
This is when most doctors recommend a hormone-replacement therapy. You should know that 50% of women taking an HRT do feel better taking them.
Post-Menopause: What You Need to Know
Fortunately, once your body transitions from menopause, things start to level out. The normal symptoms begin to fade and your body will remain in the post-menopausal state for the rest of your life. You are unable to conceive naturally at this stage but alternative treatments may make pregnancy possible for you if that’s what you desire.3
The health risks for post-menopausal women are higher due to much lower levels of estrogen. Osteoporosis and heart disease risk should not be taken lightly. If you haven’t given your bones and heart much thought until post-menopause, now is the time to get serious.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is absolutely critical at this point. Hormone-replacement therapy options may no longer be necessary.
Basic Facts about Hormone Replacement Therapy
However, HRTs do not come without risk. Let’s talk about a few of your choices.
These are the options most commonly prescribed by doctors and used by women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that all pharmaceutical hormone therapies (including hormonal birth control) should only be taken for five years before giving your body a rest.
Possible Side Effects:
- Higher risk of respiratory issues, blood clots, and heart disease
- Weight gain and water retention
- Could lead to endometriosis, fibroids, or gallstones
- Does increase personal cancer risk4
These hormone-replacement therapies are also called “natural hormone therapy” because your body treats them almost identically to how it processed your natural hormones. Bio-identical HRTs are more compatible to the human body with fewer chemical additives but the side effects are similar to those for pharmaceutical HRTs and birth control.5 6
You can opt to take the supplement route but you must always be aware that the FDA doesn’t monitor herbs and supplements for quality and consistency. However, if you find a reputable and trustworthy company, it can be a more natural option. The most common side effects of menopause can be incredibly difficult on the mind and body.7
As with every pharmaceutical drug created – there are some people that will not benefit from taking HRTs. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. HRTs don’t work for 50% of the women who take them. It’s no different than pain medication, antibiotics, or antidepressants. Everyone is different. So if you’ve decided against hormone replacement therapies, didn’t feel improvement on them, or have already been on them for a while, seeking supplement options might be right for you.
For hot flashes, do some research on black cohosh, chasteberry, or primrose oil. To improve sleep quality and energy levels, consider ginseng. To address and lower risk of bone loss or heart complications, take a look at red clover. For better mood, look into St. John’s Wort and maca root.8
Remember, if you’re taking prescription medications, you need to talk to your doctor about possible drug interactions with herbal remedies. This is especially true if you have a pre-existing condition (medication or not).
HRTs May or May Not Be Your Choice – It’s Your Body!
All women eventually go through menopause and none of their experiences will be exactly the same. That’s the nature of the human body. What you choose is up to you. The right option for you isn’t necessarily right for every woman.
No matter what your choice, take care of you. May you be one of the 50% who never experience any side effects as your body transitions to post-menopausal.
If you do happen to get the worst menopause has to offer, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, your friends, or your significant other about how you feel and what you’re going through. In your particular case, the risk for measurable relief might be worth it.
You don’t have to suffer.
A short-term (less than five years) pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapy may be right to give you some much-needed relief. Most insurance companies have them on the list of covered drugs. If you choose to take HRT, get through the worst of menopause and move on with your life.
In the meantime, eat right, get quality sleep, and keep your body moving no matter your age.
1 Mayo Clinic: Perimenopause
2 UCLA Health: Menopause
3 Cleveland Clinic: Menopause, Perimenopause, and Postmenopause
4 National Health Service: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
5 Harvard Health Publishing: What are bioidentical hormones?
6 Cleveland Clinic: Bioidentical Hormones
7 Healthline: How menopause affects the body
8Dr. Axe: Natural Remedies for Menopause Relief