Let’s cut to the chase – it depends. Most of my menopause patients ask about bioidentical estrogens. Women everywhere are talking about them. Oprah did a show about them. Suzanne Somers wrote books about them. And women in book clubs and boardrooms are hearing bioidentical estrogens have all the benefits of pharmaceutical estrogen with none of the associated risks.
But is that really true? Read on.
What is bioidentical estrogen?
Like every hormone in the body, estrogen has a specific chemical structure. It looks like chicken wire made from 18 carbon atoms with one, two or three “OH” groups hanging off some of those carbon atoms. If it has one “OH” group it is called estrone or E1. If it has two “OH” groups it is called estradiol or E2. If it has three “OH” groups hanging off it is called estriol or E3. These are the three main biological estrogen molecules that a woman’s body normally makes. Estradiol is the most potent one and before menopause, is the most abundant.
When people talk about bioidentical estrogens, which estrogens are they talking about?
While there are other bioidential hormones such as testosterone and progesterone, there are only three bioidentical estrogens: estrone, estradiol and estriol. These three hormones can be found in chain drug stores and in compounding pharmacies.
How are bioidentical estrogens different from other estrogen products?
Most of the estrogen molecules that are purchased in a drug store have a similar chemical structure to E1, E2 or E3, but they are not identical to them. Your body thinks non-bioidentical estrogens are close enough to bioidentical ones to respond to them. But they aren’t exactly the same; they might be a little stronger, a little weaker, or just different.
Bioidentical estrogens are exactly the same chemical structure as the biological ones the body normally makes. They may come from plants, but they are not made in plants. You can’t squeeze a plant and get bioidentical estrogen out of it. The only plant they are made in is a chemical plant. So they are not natural. That is why the term used to describe them is bioidentical. The body cannot turn plant estrogens into human estrogens. It doesn’t have the necessary enzymes to do that.