With 50% of the population set to go through menopause at some point in their lives, we feel that it’s important to have as many facts as possible to hand so that when the time comes, making the right decisions in order to feel as fantastic as possible feels easier – rather than scary or confusing.
One of the treatments we hear a lot about is HRT (hormone replacement therapy), so we thought that would be a good place to start the discussion following our piece on perimenopause last week.
Did you know that if you are still having periods but have had symptoms of menopause that you can start HRT? Or that the latest form of HRT is similar to the hormones which are made naturally by your body but decline as you get older and are in fact derived from a harmless tropical root plant called a yam?
We asked one of Britain’s menopause doctors, Dr Louise R Newson BSc (Hons) MBChB (Hons) MRCP FRCG, to give us a beginner’s introduction to HRT which she will then go on to explain in further detail in future articles.
What is HRT?
“In very simple terms, hormone replacement therapy is not a one size fits all treatment,” Louise tells Lumity. “It is a treatment can come in tablet form, or a patch, or a gel. There are many different kinds, strengths and combinations of treatments which depend on a variety of factors, such as your medical history and your symptoms.
“Your doctor should consider a number of factors before starting you on HRT, but if you don’t like one kind, there’s lots of other options available which we can tailor to suit your needs and minimise your symptoms.”
Which hormones does HRT treatment usually contain?
“All forms of HRT contain oestrogen, which replaces the oestrogen your body no longer makes after menopause, and in the years before menopause when levels decrease dramatically,” Louise explains.
“If you still have a womb, you will also need a form of HRT which contains progestogens. The type of HRT which I usually prescribe contain “body identical” hormones. The oestrogen is made from yam plants, which is a tropical root vegetable, and has the same structure as the oestrogen which decreases in your body during menopause.
“The progestogen which I usually prescribe is also a body identical hormone, which is called micronised progesterone and has the same molecular structure as the progesterone in your bodies. These usually come with far less side effects of other types of progestogens and this type of progesterone is also made from the yam plant.”
We have heard of women saying they are taking testosterone as well?
“Sometimes women are also given testosterone, which is often thought of as a male hormone but is a hormone that women produce naturally as well but it decreases with age,” says Louise. “It’s normally given as a gel taken in combination with the oestrogen and progestogen outlined above and can work to improve well-being, mood, energy, concentration and can also revive a flagging sex drive.”
The treatments which you have described are body identical, but we have read about women talking about being prescribed bio-identical hormones?
“Other doctors in some private clinics prescribe bio-identical hormones; these are not the same as HRT which is available on the NHS in the UK and are subject to fewer regulations. It is important to do your research before committing to these as they are not the same as the body identical hormones which I have outlined above,” Louise says.
At what age should we consider looking into HRT?
“It’s not age, it’s your symptoms,” Louise underlines. “If you are having symptoms of menopause but still having periods, then talk to your doctor because there are things – including HRT – that we can give you to help. The sooner you start the better and even a very low dose of HRT can ease symptoms dramatically. If you are still having periods, you will be prescribed a type of HRT than still gives you a monthly period for a year or so. Do not wait until symptoms are unbearable to see what your options are.”
What kind of changes can we expect while taking HRT?
“Menopausal symptoms will improve within a few weeks, to a few months of being prescribed HRT,” says Louise. “Women often notice that they feel happier, less moody, more energetic, they sleep better and their skin and hair improve. Hot flushes and night sweats often improve within a few weeks of starting treatment and things like focus and concentration improve as well as libido issues.”
Did you know that it’s crucial to add weight training to your workouts to help protect your spine as your body goes through menopause? And meditating has been scientifically proven to help ease stress and mood swings – resulting in a healthier, happier you.