Premarin, Premro & Bioidentical Hormones
If you are confused about the difference between synthetic hormones and bioidentical hormones, you are certainly not alone. The difference between the two is a hotly contested issue among medical professionals, and unfortunately, it is women suffering with hormone imbalance who are caught in the middle.
Some physicians will tell you flatly bioidentical hormones do not exist. In fact, a nationally known gynecologist and obstetrician told me directly, and in no uncertain terms, “There is no such thing as bioidentical hormones. They do not exist, and women who believe they do, are being duped.”
However, given that Harvard Medical School does say that bioidentical hormones exist, and they issue a pamphlet which lists the different FDA approved bioidentical hormones available with a prescription, I would beg to differ with the good doctor.
Since I didn’t challenge the doctor’s statement at the time, I was unable to clarify exactly what she may have meant. While it certainly sounded like she was saying unequivocally there is “no such thing as bioidentical hormones,” it is highly possible that what she was actually saying is that the only real, natural hormones are those which are made by the human body.
And that is correct.
Even bioidentical hormones are created in a pharmaceutical laboratory. Therefore, one could say, that true, bioidentical hormones, exactly like those produced in the human body, simply do not exist. The issue is further muddied by the fact that many over-the-counter supposedly bioidentical progesterone creams are sold under the auspices of “naturally derived” sources. Combined with slick marketing campaigns and packaging, the message is that no laboratory intervention was involved in the making of the product.
And again, that is simply not true.
What is a Synthetic Hormone and a Bioidentical Hormone?
Simply put, a synthetic hormone is a hormone synthesized in a pharmaceutical laboratory from synthetic (man-made) chemical compounds. Bioidentical hormones are synthesized in a pharmaceutical laboratory from plant sources. Hence, the term natural versus synthetic.
The significant difference between synthetic hormones and bioidentical hormones, however, is how they act in the human body. Synthetic hormones, like Premarin, a synthetic estrogen, and Prempro, a synthetic progesterone, have a molecular bond which is not recognized by the human body. Therefore, they are not metabolized efficiently, and can, according to some researchers, release toxins into the body.
Conversely, bioidentical hormones are recognized by the human body because their molecular structure is exactly like that of the hormones produced naturally in your body. Because the molecular structure of bioidentical hormones is recognized by the human body, they are more efficiently metabolized and have not been shown to increase carcinogens in the process.
If you are interested in reading a research study which has been done on the difference between bioidentical hormones and synthetic hormones, and how they are broken down in the body, you can find a PDF copy of an excellent study done in 2009 here. It can be tedious reading if you are not used to deciphering “science speak” in medical studies, but overall, it’s relatively easy to read in my view, and worth your effort to do so.
I believe that the debate over bioidentical hormones versus synthetic hormones is only poised to become hotter in the coming years. As healthcare consumers, I think it is of the utmost importance that we educate ourselves so that we can make the most informed decision for our health!
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.