You might ask, “If there are hormones available that are natural to my body, why do doctors prescribe synthetic hormones?” The explanation involves the powerful pharmaceutical industry in the United States, politics and economics. The molecule of the natural hormone is identical in structure to the hormone naturally found in the body, Pharmaceutical companies cannot patent natural or bioidentical compounds that already exist in nature.
However, they can patent chemically different molecules that are highly profitable. A patent will guarantee that a pharmaceutical company will have an exclusive right to manufacture and profit from their product. After the tremendous monetary investment that goes into developing and studying a pharmaceutical product, it is logical that the pharmaceutical companies would want their investment protected with an exclusive, patented product. Therefore, there is little research and minimal marketing of natural hormones. Where do these natural hormones come from? The pure biologically identical (human identical) hormone is either extracted from plants or synthetically manufactured. What is most important is that the end product is a molecule identical to the hormone molecule found naturally in the body. This applies to all hormones — thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA. One can get bioidentical hormones from compound pharmacies.
Aren’t health food store products natural? Products in health food stores provide people with a variety of natural options, usually from an herb or plant source. Folk medicine, naturopathy, and herbalists have become more popular as people seek alternatives to conventional, synthetic medicines. However, the products from compounding pharmacies are different in several ways. First, the medicine provided by a pharmacy requires a prescription. Health food store products are most often of a dose that is so low that it does not require a prescription. Usually the dose is so small that it is insufficient to produce a measurable difference in the body, based on laboratory tests. Second, the products from the compounding pharmacy utilize ingredients of a pure pharmaceutical grade that are micronized. Micronized means that the product is a fine grain that will be well absorbed. Third, the natural hormones from the compounding pharmacy can be prescribed as long-acting, or time release. This helps the body have a balanced hormone level instead of the highs and lows that come with quick acting, quickly absorbed or poorly absorbed products. In order to assure adequate replacement, hormone levels are monitored and then adjusted to maintain optimal levels of all hormones. HRT might be worthless unless monitoring and adjustment is done.
To summarize, a bioidentical hormone has a chemical structure that is identical to the hormone naturally produced by the body. We refer to them as natural because they are natural to the human body. Natural hormones cannot be patented by drug companies. Synthetic hormones have a structure similar to but not exactly the same as a hormone produced by your body. These chemical differences mean that the synthetic hormone acts differently and produces substantially different effects. Natural (bioidentical) and synthetic hormones should not be considered the same or used interchangeably. They are entirely different. A multitude of studies have demonstrated many harmful effects of synthetic hormones whereas the medical literature supports no harmful effects of natural hormones, only beneficial effects.