Risks of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Dr. Abby Campbell
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a form of therapy that treats symptoms associated with menopause or osteoporosis. It is also known as menopausal hormone therapy, postmenopausal therapy, estrogen hormone therapy, or hormone therapy. The treatment is used to boost the body’s natural hormone levels in the form of estrogen and progesterone.
First developed to help women ease menopause symptoms, this therapeutic approach uses synthetic estrogen to help combat naturally occurring age-related hormonal shifts in women. During menopause, the body naturally changes as it moves away from reproduction. This may cause uncomfortable side effects such as hot flashes, moodiness, concentration issues, fatigue, and a lack of luster for life. These effects are usually temporary through the transition, and HRT can alleviate these symptoms.
Though HRT may seem like a positive approach to treating symptoms of menopause, it doesn’t come without dangers. The unnatural, synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone hormones used in HRT is cause for concern as to how they affect the body. After all, hormones have many more functions in the body than just alleviating menopausal symptoms. Hormones affect health, and science and statistics are proving that HRT is harmful to the body and a risk to health.
What are Hormone Replacement Therapy Risks?
Initiated by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was developed in 1991 to address major health issues causing morbidity and mortality in postmenopausal women. It was a long-term national health study that focused on strategies for preventing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, as well as breast and colorectal cancers in postmenopausal women – diseases that are major causes of frailty, disability, and death in older women. It included the study of HRT.
The HRT part of the study was terminated early in 2001 by NIH after the Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) determined the combination of estrogen and progestin was a hazard to health. They found that serious health effects outweighed any benefits. This included coronary heart disease, stroke, and pulmonary embolism. Below are the findings of the study with increased risks in percentages.
- Blood Clots (Venous Thromboembolism) = 50%
- Strokes = 41%
- Heart Attacks = 29%
- Breast Cancer = 26%
- Cardiovascular Disease = 22%
Are there Hormone Replacement Therapy Alternatives?
Not everyone experiences symptoms of menopause or osteoporosis. However, they can be very unpleasant for some. If you’re having symptoms, you don’t have to risk your health by taking HRT. There are several lifestyle measures and supporting supplements that can help you through this transition phase of life. Following are few things to consider.
By consistently exercise, you can reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, and insomnia. Resistant or weight-bearing exercises can also keep your bones strong which reduces the risk for osteoporosis and hip fractures.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Opt for wholefoods that include healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins may include grass-fed meats, certified organic poultry, pasture-raised eggs, wild fish and seafood. Dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, as well as berries and grapefruits, are your best source of carbohydrates. Fats include avocados; chia, flax, and hemp seeds; nuts like walnuts and pecans; flax and olive oils; cultured dairy such as kefir, plain yogurt, and raw cheese; as well as the yolk in eggs and fat in fish. Not only will these foods reduce inflammation that often comes with menopause, they will also help your body flush toxins that may cause symptoms. Additionally, they will help strengthen bones.
To further help flush toxins, drink pure water and herbal teas. Teas that contain black cohosh, ginseng, chaste tree berry, red raspberry leaf, and licorice are some of the best for treating menopause symptoms, regulating hormones, and keeping the gut calm.
Stay away from pre-packaged, processed, and refined foods as they cause inflammation and many other health problems that only exacerbate menopause symptoms. You may also want to avoid spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol if you have hot flashes as they are triggers.
Take Supporting Supplements
There are many supplements on the market that will help alleviate menopause symptoms and help regulate hormones. Following are some of my favorites as they all include a combination of herbs and vitamins that work synergistically for the best support. It usually takes two or three months of consistently taking these supplements to feel the full effects, but it is rewarding when you finally overcome the symptoms that menopause can bring.
Pure Encapsulations® PhytoBalance II is an herbal extract formulated to provide support during periods of hormonal changes that occur during normal menopause. Black cohosh allows for optimal comfort and wellbeing. Sage reduces hot flashes and night sweats. Vitex (chaste tree berry) promotes healthy dopamine levels. Grape seed extract supports cardiovascular and cognitive health while reducing the risk for blood clots.
Pure Encapsulations® MenoVive offers a unique combination of lignans, flavonoids, and adaptogenic herbal extracts to promote menopausal comfort, emotional wellbeing, sexual function, cognitive function, and cardiovascular health for women throughout menopause.
Gaia® Professional Herbs Female Hormone Support® is an herbal formula that combines chaste tree berry, black cohosh, and several other supportive herbs to help you feel well balanced during the menopause transition.
Get Rest & Sleep
Your hormones will give you a workout as they try to regulate themselves, therefore you’ll need appropriate rest. If you can, try to take a cat nap in the afternoon. Even five minutes will make a difference in your energy levels. Also, try to go to bed at the same time every night. The deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between 10 PM and 2 AM, so try to go to bed by 10 PM. Getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep is appropriate for menopausal women according to the National Sleep Foundation. In addition to getting enough rest, this will improve your moods.
Give Up Smoking
Not only is cigarette smoking a bad habit, it only amplifies the risk of diseases associated with menopause such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer. By giving up smoking, you will also help reduce hot flashes.
Use Vaginal Moisturizers
If you experience vaginal dryness or burning during intercourse, you can try several different types of moisturizers or lubricants. Opt for a natural one made from gentle botanical herbs and aloe vera. The brand Good Clean Love makes several lubricants, washes, and wipes.
If you’re going through menopause and exhibiting symptoms, don’t be discouraged. This is a natural transition of life. It can actually be rewarding as you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant, nor do you have to experience the awful cycle of cramps and mood swings that often accompany menstruation. Just making a few lifestyle changes and taking supporting supplements can help relieve menopausal symptoms. It’s well worth it when you think of the many health risks of HRT.