What is Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on May 19, 2023
3 min read

Hormones are an important part of your body’s messenger system. These chemicals send signals to almost every part of your body. They control things like your mood, growth, and even body hair.  

Bioidentical hormones are man-made. They’re designed so your body uses them in the same way it does your own hormones. Bioidentical hormones can be very helpful for people who suffer from a hormonal imbalance or who might not make enough hormones naturally. 

Hormones are chemicals that are made by your endocrine glands. The glands release hormones into your bloodstream to be carried to the appropriate body part. Hormones control quite a few functions in your body such as: 

  • Metabolism
  • Reproduction
  • Growth
  • Sexual function

It’s difficult for you to function properly when your hormones are out of balance. A hormone imbalance can cause weight gain or mood swings that affect your day-to-day life. Taking hormones can help people whose bodies don’t make enough of a certain hormone, or whose hormone levels are unbalanced. 

Bioidentical hormones are just one type of man-made hormones available. Of all the hormones out there, the bioidentical type is the closest to the real thing. These hormones are chemically identical to the ones your body makes, so you can absorb them easily. Bioidentical hormones are made in a laboratory and can come in different forms.  

Natural hormones are another type of hormone on the market today. They come from natural sources like yams and soybeans. But don’t be fooled by the name itself. Natural hormones require lots of processing for them to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sold. 

Hormones can come in different forms like pills, creams, injections, and gels. 

Every physical body is unique and has different needs. For this reason, some health care practitioners offer a compounded, or mixed, bioidentical hormone. The appeal is that it’s a blend of hormones tailored to the individual. But there are risks involved with using this method. 

Often, when hormones are blended, a saliva sample is taken from the patient to test current hormone levels to determine what hormone combination is most suitable. There are multiple reasons why this method can be unsafe. 

Saliva doesn’t always indicate actual hormone levels in the blood. And custom hormonal blends aren’t usually FDA-approved. They can contain a range of hormones and non-hormonal ingredients that haven’t been tested for safety. ‌

Compounding pharmacies are places where a pharmacist will mix a blend of hormones for patients. Some products might be given the FDA stamp of approval, but the final blends usually haven’t. More research is needed on the safety of compounded bioidentical hormones. 

People need to take replacement hormones for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s due to old age or life changes, like menopause. Taking certain hormones your body no longer makes can help improve your health and overall well-being. 

Without a proper balance of hormones, your body can go through unpleasant symptoms. Replacing the hormones you no longer produce with doctor-prescribed bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) can reduce symptoms and help you achieve a better quality of life.

BHRT can help with the following symptoms: 

  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Night sweats
  • Low energy levels
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased interest in sex‌

While hormone therapy can offer its share of benefits, there are also some risks involved. People who undergo not just BHRT — but any hormone therapy — can be at risk to develop blood clots and gallbladder disease. It can also increase your risk of stroke and breast cancer. 

As with most hormone therapies, there is an adjustment period when you first start taking a course. Side effects can appear within the first few weeks and subside as your body adjusts to the new hormone level. 

Some of these side effects can appear when you begin BHRT:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Increased facial hair 
  • Spotting
  • Cramps
  • Acne or changes in the facial skin
  • Headaches
  • Tenderness in the breast ‌

Breast tenderness, bloating, and weight gain are the most reported side effects of BHRT. It’s important to consult with your doctor if BHRT is right for you.