Hormones are life-giving chemical messengers which are essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing. Progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, pregnenolone, and others are responsible for transporting information throughout the body, ensuring that our organs maintain a healthy synergy. A compromised endocrine system makes it difficult or impossible for the body to function correctly. We are currently facing a crisis in the realm of hormonal health as our exposure to endocrine-disrupting industrial chemicals increases year by year. Our hardworking livers are incapable of processing and filtering out all the plastics, heavy metals, pesticides, and flame retardants which find their way into our bodies on a daily basis. As a result of this increased toxic burden (which is compounded by a sugary, grain-laden Standard American Diet), we are witnessing skyrocketing rates of reproductive cancers, hypothyroidism, heart disease, depression, anxiety, adrenal fatigue, infertility, and a host of other avoidable illnesses. Although the ultimate answer to this problem is the elimination of the offending chemical compounds, there is a short-term solution that the pharmaceutical giants don't want you to know about called Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy, or BHRT.
Bioidentical hormones are manufactured hormones which are molecularly identical to those produced by our own bodies. Unlike their synthetic counterparts, bioidenticals are easily recognized and synthesized by the body and, given a proper dose, can be incredibly powerful yet gentle medicine. The sticking point for Big Pharma is the fact that these compounds are naturally occurring in the human body, which means that they cannot be patented and they therefore offer very little potential for profit.
Many people who have heard of BHRT think of it as something that perimenopausal women turn to in order to deal with unpleasant hot flashes and insomia. As a 25-year-old female who has experienced profound physical and emotional healing with the help of bioidentical progesterone, I know that this medicine is much more than a treatment for the discomfort of menopause. For over five years I visited conventional doctors hoping to find some relief from my persistent nausea, migraines, weight loss, dizziness, fatigue, panic attacks, night sweats, acne, and debilitating PMS. Over and over again the doctors offered me two things — birth control pills and antidepressants. I knew instinctively that neither of these drugs would make me well and I had no desire to tamper blindly with my internal chemistry. I felt intuitively that something in my body was in a serious state of imbalance and that adding a pharmaceutical cocktail to the mix was not going to fix anything.
I turned to raw foods and lifestyle changes, which brought immediate but incomplete relief. At this point I became certain that I was dealing with some kind of toxicity within my body — that this illness was the product of a naively unhealthy lifestyle. I attempted for a long time to heal myself with living foods and yoga but I couldn't quite achieve robust health. After I graduated from school and entered the working world I realized that I could no longer continue limping along in a state of quasi-sickness. I was burning out. My reading and research ultimately led me to suspect that my endocrine system had gone haywire, that I needed to both detoxify my body and "reset" my hormonal levels. I couldn't believe that I was doomed to languish forever in this undiagnosed sickly limbo — I felt certain that vibrant health and happiness were at some level written into my DNA; that I would be able to experience profound healing if I could only support my body and enable it to return to a natural, balanced state.
I googled for a holistic doctor in New York who had experience with bioidenticals, which led me to Dr. John Salerno. In May of 2008 I arrived at my first appointment, anxious, underweight and exhausted. Dr. Salerno ordered a huge number of tests — the first labwork any doctor had ordered for me in over a decade, despite my drenching night sweats and other puzzling symptoms. At my next appointment, my suspicions were confirmed — not only were my hormones in a state of imbalance, there weren't even enough of them. My estrogen, pregnenolone, testosterone, and progesterone were totally depleted. It appeared my body had become so overwhelmed that my endocrine system had practically shut down. Dr. Salerno explained that he was seeing more and more young women with these kinds of problems — that this type of sickness wasn't going to go away as long as we continued to assault our bodies with plastics, heavy metals, and processed foods.
I was immediately placed on a daily regimen which consisted of bioidentical estrogen and progesterone. The transformation was rapid and profound. Within days, the nausea which had plagued me for over five years melted away. My appetite was voracious and I began gaining healthy weight almost immediately. I was no longer jolting awake at 5:00 every morning feeling like I was going to throw up or have a heart attack. Perhaps most importantly, I felt happy — it was as though I were coming home to myself. My body was no longer a scary, hostile environment, and I watched as the skin on my face became clearer with every passing day.
This experience was so exciting and inspiring to me — I wanted to know everything about the subject so I could tell people how my life had been healed, all thanks to these humble little hormones. I began reading more and more about BHRT, which inevitably led me to a dramatic tale of corporate corruption. In the midst of my progesterone-induced euphoria I was horrified but not entirely surprised to learn that pharmaceutical giant Wyeth and our own FDA were aggressively seeking a ban on bioidentical hormones. Wyeth's "Frankenstein" version of progesterone, named Premarin because it is derived from pregnant mare's urine, wasn't raking in enough cash. The famous Women's Health Initiative study revealed that this synthetic hormone was linked to an increased incidence of breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, and several other serious illnesses. The results were so disconcerting that the WHI study was halted early. Wyeth was losing informed, concerned customers to safer and gentler bioidentical options, and they weren't happy about it. Wyeth insists that their attempts to get bioidenticals banned stems from a sincere concern for the safety of the women who have been prescribed these "dangerous" and "experimental" medicines — yet Premarin and Prempro are still on the market (despite a 68% decline in profits between 2002 and 2004).
The Wyeth situation is one small piece of a much larger puzzle, and the body of a hormonally-imbalanced woman is a microcosm of our global situation. We are already seeing infertile and hermaphroditic populations of fish and other wildlife. Some of our little girls are beginning puberty before they've even entered kindergarten. Women are miscarrying and men are becoming feminized. If we continue to lay waste to the delicate balance within our own bodies and across our planet, we will be forfeiting a beautiful experience for ourselves as well as dragging the entire ecosystem down with us.
Today as I write this I am healthy and strong. My stomach is calm and my mind is clear and sharp. I still take bioidentical progesterone on a daily basis. I also follow a high-raw paleolithic diet, and I make sure to get as much sunshine and fresh air as is possible here in New York City. The years I spent in a state of dis-ease were entirely worthwhile as they have afforded me precious insight as well as the certainty that an ancient principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine is true, and that it applies to systems far larger than an individual human organism: A restoration of balance is always possible.