Sometimes called natural hormones or human identical hormones, biologically identical hormones are derived from plants, such as the wild yam or soybean plant, and are chemically and functionally identical to human hormones. The wild yam is rich in precursor molecules that can be converted in the laboratory into estrogens and other hormones whose molecular structure is the same as those produced in the human body. Biologically identical hormones produce the same physiologic responses in the body as endogenous hormones (those made by the body). Substances that are most similar to what our body produces naturally support human functioning without increased risk of allergic reactions and sensitivities. For example, studies have shown human-identical insulin to be more effective for diabetic patients. Moreover, an often over-looked aspect of biologically identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is that it may vastly improve the quality of life for women suffering from a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Although there have been a number of smaller studies on biologically identical hormones, there have been no large-scale efforts similar to the WHI research. In the late 1800s, laws were passed in the United States that allowed medicines to be patented only if they were not natural substances.
Because biologically identical hormones occur naturally in the female body, they cannot be patented and therefore large pharmaceutical companies have no financial incentive to fund research on these types of hormones. Even the WHI authors acknowledged that results might have been different if biologically identical hormones had been used: “The results do not necessarily apply… to estrogens and progestins administered through the transdermal route. It remains possible that transdermal estradiol with progesterone, which more closely mimics the normal physiology and metabolism of endogenous sex hormones, may provide a different risk-benefit profile.” Biologically identical hormones can be prepared by a compounding pharmacy in dosages and various administration forms to suit each individual patient.
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