Women's balancing act
LISMORE herbalist and hormone consultant Maureen Calear has specialised in hormonal conditions for 16 years.
She says difficulty losing weight, osteoporosis and chronic low energy can all be hormonal.
"I like to explain to people what has happened and why, and what their treatment options are," she says.
Maureen has a special interest in bio-identical hormones - hormones which are identical to those naturally produced by the body, rather than synthetic hormones produced by pharmaceutical companies.
But she stresses not all hormone-related conditions require hormone treatment.
"Often it just takes minor adjustments to diet or lifestyle and there are wonderful herbal and naturopathic treatments which will do the job."
We asked her about hormone-related health issues and their treatment.
Q: Hormones obviously play a vital part in women's health yet many women post menopause are depleted of estrogen. Do you think it is always necessary to have some kind of hormone replacement or can changes in diet or lifestyle keep the skin, bones, and so on healthy?
A: In my experience it is not common for women to need additional oestrogen during peri or post-menopause. Diet, lifestyle changes and naturopathic treatments are often all that's needed. Where supplemental hormone does need to be introduced I have found that bio-identical progesterone has been successful in alleviating menopausal and menstrual cycle symptoms, without the side effects or risk factors associated with oestrogen. Progesterone is a hormone produced from ovulation for the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle and balances oestrogen activity. A reduced level of progesterone production during the menstrual cycle can result in what we call 'oestrogen dominance', which is often responsible for PMT/PMS symptoms and hormonal conditions. With reduced ovulation during peri menopause and cessation post menopause there is a corresponding reduction in progesterone production.
Q: What is the difference between pharmaceutical co hormones and bio identical hormones made by a chemist?
A: All hormones produced by pharmaceutical companies are synthetic. Unfortunately the body does not recognise synthetic hormone in the same way as our naturally-produced hormone. It can work at a more potent level, it can be active for longer or, in the case of progesterone, it can work quite differently from the natural hormone and rather than providing the balance and protection of progesterone, synthetic progestins can increase many of the symptoms or risk factors associated with oestrogen. Specialist compounding pharmacies produce bio-identical hormones, that is hormones which are identical in molecular structure to those our bodies produce. A medical prescription is required for all hormone in Australia.
Q: When would you consider bio identical hormones may be of use?
A: Where naturopathic treatment has not been sufficiently successful, where perhaps there continues to be menstrual cycle problems, excessive flushing, bone loss in osteoporosis or continued hypo or hyper thyroid symptoms, then bio-identical hormone treatment should be considered. Also, let's not forget men here too. Like women, their hormone production can start to reduce from their mid-40s, often resulting in fatigue, moods, depression, lack of motivation, reduced libido, even flushing.
- Bio-identical hormones can be incorporated into a cream, absorbed across the skin and go directly into the circulation, bypassing the digestive system.
- It is crucial to have the right dosage. Initially this involves a saliva test, which measures levels of unbound, active homone.
- The dosage must be monitored through follow-up testing. This generally occurs two to three months after the bio-identical hormones have been prescribed.
- A compounding chemist needs to make the hormones and a prescription is required.