Are bio-identical hormones safer and more effective, as Suzanne Somers claims?

The risks if you go the compounding pharmacy route.


Actress Suzanne Somers touts bio-identical hormones as “an amazing alternative to conventional replacement therapy.”  But is there evidence that they’re safer and more effective than FDA-approved hormones, as she claims?

No, says women’s health researcher JoAnn E. Manson. In fact, some of them may be riskier, she adds.

Manson is professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

About a third of the women who use hormone therapy now are taking hormones that are made in compounding pharmacies. They’re marketed as bio-identical hormones, which are exact chemical matches to the ones made naturally by our bodies.

Manson says that women are being misled by unsubstantiated claims that these hormones prepared by compounding pharmacies are better than the hormones dispensed by conventional pharmacies.

Why would consumers believe that?

“They often don’t receive a package insert telling them about the risks of these drugs,” she notes. “And some celebrities tout them, like Suzanne Somers who talks about how great the custom-compounded hormones are.”

It’s a serious problem, she explains, “because women are getting the message that these special custom-compounded formulas won’t increase their risk of breast cancer or blood clots, heart disease, or stroke. But those are unsubstantiated claims.”

In reality, compounded products have similar or even greater risks than conventional hormone therapy.

“There’s a lot of concern about the safety, dose consistency, and purity of these hormones because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have as much oversight of compounding pharmacies as it has over facilities that manufacture FDA-approved medications,” says Manson.

Plus, you may not be getting what you think.

“The doses may be inconsistent, or you may not be getting enough progestin to prevent endometrial cancer,” Manson points out.

Worse, there’s concern that the hormones could be contaminated, like the deadly steroid injections from a compounding pharmacy that killed 64 people in 2012.

“Across the board, professional associations like the North American Menopause Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Endocrine Society are saying that women who use hormones should take FDA-approved hormones you can get in regular drug stores, rather than the custom compounds, unless you have unique needs like an allergy to an ingredient in the commercial preparation,” Manson advises.

“Women interested in bio-identical hormones have many FDA-approved options to choose from and don’t need to go the custom-compounding route. There are many FDA-approved bio-identical hormones that come in pills, patches, gels, and sprays in a wide variety of doses.”

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