In simplest terms, bio-identical hormones are plant-based compounds synthesized to biochemically match the hormones in the human body. They are hormone supplements that your body responds to just as it would to your own biological hormones. Because the body responds to these supplements in the same way it responds to its own hormones they‘re commonly referred to as ‘bio-identical’.
Prior to the development of bio-identical technology 30 years ago, we used modified animal hormones for human hormone replacement. ‘Premarin’ was an estrogen replacement made from the urine of pregnant mares, and there were also modified forms of both bovine and porcine insulin, used in the treatment of diabetes. With the development of biosynthetic hormones in the late 70s – early 80s, hormone treatments no longer relied upon modified animal hormones to make these medicines.
Bio-identical hormones are available as products from your local pharmacy with a prescription from your doctor. Because you cannot patent a natural substance like estradiol, these proprietary hormone formulations are now promoted commercially – products like Estrace, Vivelle, and the Nuva-Ring are all bio-identical estradiol, where the delivery system for the drug has been patented as slow-release formulations in an oral tablet, a skin patch, and a vaginally-inserted ring.
Bio-identical hormones are also available by prescription in individual formulations from a compounding pharmacy. Mass-formulated products like Estrace, Vivelle, and the Nuva-Ring come in limited dosages—they’re available in one (Nuva-Ring) to five (Vivelle) dosage formulations. A compounding pharmacy, on the other hand, can formulate individual dosages according to your doctor’s prescription. So, with my patients, I have blood work done to test individual hormone levels, and I prescribe hormones in individual formulations to match your unique lab profile.