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The Ultimate Guide to Hormone Therapy

How much do you know about the concept of hormone therapy? Read our ultimate guide to learn everything that you need to know about it.



According to a recent poll, 47% of women aged 30 to 60 have experienced symptoms of hormonal imbalance. But 72% were unaware of the potential long-term implications that this hormonal change can have on the mind and body.

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers and play a role in the regulation of your emotions, sexual function, metabolism, growth and development, and sleep. They also contribute to daily functioning.

But what is a hormone imbalance and how can hormone therapy help? What is bioidentical hormone therapy? Can I get hormone therapy near me? To discover the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading!

What is Hormone Imbalance?

A hormone imbalance occurs when your body or brain is unable to regulate your hormone levels. You may begin producing too much or too little of one or multiple hormones. Imbalance can affect any hormone, including:

  • Estrogen

  • Progesterone

  • Testosterone

  • Cortisol

  • Insulin

  • Serotonin

  • Dopamine

  • Adrenaline

Because of the interconnected nature of body and brain functions, a single hormone becoming imbalanced can disrupt the entire system. High cortisol can lead to low serotonin and high testosterone can lead to low estrogen.

Hormone imbalances are a “natural” part of the aging process. The older a person gets, the more likely it is that their hormones have fallen out of balance. But psychological, physical, social, and environmental factors can also cause an imbalance to occur.

Some examples include:

  • Extreme stress

  • Thyroid issues

  • Cancer treatments

  • Tumors

  • Medications

  • Trauma

  • Poor nutrition

Stress is a good example for highlighting the domino effect that one imbalance can have on other hormones. High stress levels can lead to increased adrenaline and cortisol, but a decrease in dopamine, serotonin, and estrogen.

Menopause is a natural process that every woman can expect to go through in later life. The average age of menopause is 51, and it marks the permanent end of fertility. But menopause is also associated with lower levels of reproductive hormones, such as estrogen.

Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance

Since hormones play such a variety of roles throughout the body, the symptoms of imbalance will be different for each one. Some general symptoms include:

  • Mood swings

  • Sudden weight gain or loss

  • Muscle weakness, aches, swelling, or stiffness

  • Change in bowel movement frequency and consistency

  • Dry skin

  • Psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression

  • Rounded or puffy face

  • Insomnia

  • Change in heart rate and/or heart palpitations

  • Fatigue and tiredness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Low libido

  • Infertility (pre-menopause)

  • Acne or oily skin

  • Hair loss

We associate many of these symptoms with the aging process, but they can be signs that your body and brain can no longer regulate the production of certain hormones.

In women, estrogen is a hormone that commonly becomes imbalanced with age. This can lead to infertility (in women yet to go through menopause), fatigue, hair loss, and weight gain, as mentioned above. And menopause can be a major cause of these hormonal changes.

Other symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

  • Heavy periods

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Genital tract atrophy

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Pelvic pain

  • Cold extremities

  • Poor skin health

  • Breast discharge

It’s not uncommon for GPs and other health professionals to prescribe forms of treatment that only tackle the symptoms, rather than the underlying issue. That’s where hormone replacement therapy comes in. But what are the risks associated with leaving an imbalance untreated?

Long-Term Risks of Hormone Imbalance

Many of the symptoms described above can be manageable with medication, treatment, or lifestyle changes. Some are a minor inconvenience while others can wreak havoc on your life. Symptoms and their intensity vary from one woman to the next, but there are larger risks to consider.

Low estrogen levels can increase a woman’s risk for:

  • Obesity

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Osteoporosis

  • Endometrial cancer

  • Osteopenia

  • Decreased bone density

  • Long-term depression

  • Premature aging

Because of these risks, women must have their hormone levels checked if they experience any of the imbalance symptoms we discussed earlier. Based on levels, symptoms, age, and lifestyle, hormone therapy may become the best treatment option.

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Hormone therapy for women typically involves the replacement of low estrogen and progesterone but can also include testosterone. Hormone levels will naturally begin to decrease before a woman reaches menopause, and hormone replacement therapy aims to rebalance these levels.

Restoring a hormone imbalance is possible by providing the body with more estrogen, progesterone, and/or testosterone. Doing so can relieve or reduce the symptoms of shifting hormone levels.

There are several forms of hormone replacement therapy, as well as different application methods. These include:

  • Pills

  • Skin patches

  • Topical creams and gels

  • Vaginal creams and suppositories

  • Bioidentical hormone therapy pellets

Each method offers different benefits. And to understand why you may choose one over another, we’ll briefly explore each one.

Pills

Oral medication is a common hormone replacement method. Premarin (estrogen) and Estrace (estradiol) are two examples. You would take most of these pills once a day without food, but some have more complex dosage instructions.

Although this is the most studied form of hormone replacement therapy, it’s not without its flaws. The stomach and liver struggle to process oral estrogen which can lead to damage, making it risky for anybody with underlying stomach or liver issues.

Oral estrogen can also increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues.

Also, many women who are taking Premarin are unaware of its origins. The name comes from the source of the hormone: Pregnant Mares’ Urine - Pre-Mar-In. According to PETA, over 750,000 horses are impregnated each year with the sole purpose of collecting estrogen from their urine.

Skin Patches

Estrogen patches and Estrogen-Progesterone combination patches allow women to wear a patch (usually on their lower stomach) that slowly releases the hormones into their system.

You change most patches once or twice a week, but that can vary depending on the brand, strength, and personal hormone levels.

Unlike oral estrogen, patches bypass the damage to the stomach and liver by entering the bloodstream directly. Recent research suggests that patches don’t carry the same risk of blood clots, but more definitive research is still needed.

Although patches may seem like a safe alternative to oral estrogen, they aren’t without side effects. These can include:

  • A small increase in stroke risk

  • Swollen breasts

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Nausea

  • Skin irritation

  • Vaginal discharge

Patches can also lead to inconsistent hormone release. Heat and direct sunlight can cause the estrogen to release faster than designed, leading to further imbalance and the potential for worsening side effects or symptoms.

Topical Creams and Gels

Estrogen creams and gels work similarly to patches. The skin absorbs the hormone, allowing it to enter the bloodstream directly without having to pass through other bodily systems. This means they don’t interact with the stomach and liver, like oral estrogen.

You would usually apply these topicals solutions to an arm or leg once a day, but the specific application methods can va