More Women Are Using Hormone Therapy

By Semko, Laura 
March 21, 2017
May 2015

More Women Are Using Hormone Therapy

A woman’s body goes through many changes during menopause. Changing hormone levels can cause problems such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. A recent study suggests more women may be trying bioidentical hormones to ease these symptoms. But they may not know exactly what they are taking.

Woman lying on her side and smiling

What are bioidentical hormones?

For years hormone therapy has helped women with troubling symptoms brought on by menopause. But past studies have linked some types of this treatment to a higher risk for breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and stroke. That may be why more women are choosing bioidentical hormones.

Bioidentical hormones are drugs made from plants. For that reason they may also be called “natural” hormones. They are exactly like the hormones found in a woman’s body. They work like estrogen and progesterone. A few of these bioidentical hormones are approved by the FDA. Others are not.

Those drugs that aren’t approved are custom-made. They are mixed together (compounded) in a pharmacy. Hence their other name: compounded hormone therapy. These hormones may help women who can’t use the FDA-approved versions. For instance, some women may be allergic to those products. Others may choose compounded bioidentical hormones because they think they are safer.

In a recent study, researchers found that up to 2.5 million women may be using compounded hormone therapy. They based their estimate on 2 surveys of nearly 3,000 women ages 40 and older. The surveys asked the women about their use of hormone therapy. Many said it helped ease their menopause symptoms. But few knew that compounded hormones weren’t approved by the FDA.

Why the concern?

Many expert groups advise against using compounded bioidentical hormones. A pharmacist trained in compounding can compound certain medicines safely. But online pharmacies that sell these products may not have the training or use the right equipment. Unlike similar drugs approved by the FDA, these medicines aren’t tested for safety and effectiveness. Their dosages may also not be correct. What’s more, they may be labeled natural. But that doesn’t mean they can’t harm you.

If you are thinking about trying hormone therapy, talk with your doctor about the pros and cons. He or she can help you choose what’s best for you. Whether you decide on a bioidentical hormone or another type of hormone, take the lowest dose for the shortest time possible. That may help curtail any side effects and health risks.

Hormone therapy isn’t the only way you can ease symptoms of menopause. These lifestyle changes may also help:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.

  • Exercise most days of the week.

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of calcium and soy foods.

  • Try yoga, tai chi, and meditation to relax.

  • Do Kegel exercises to build up pelvic muscles.

  • Dress lightly and in layers to deal with hot flashes.

  • Stick with a regular bed-time routine.

  • Stop smoking, if you smoke.


Learn more about hormone therapy.


Online resources

Hormone Health Network

National Institute on Aging


March 21, 2017


Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Therapy: Identifying Use Trends and Knowledge Gaps Among U.S. Women. J.V. Pinkerton and N. Santoro. Menopause. 2015. Vol. 22, no. 9, published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000420., Compounded Bioidentical Menopausal Hormone Therapy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice and American Society for Reproductive Medicine Practice Committee. Fertility and Sterility. 2012;98(2):308-12.

Reviewed By:  

Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN