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Safety and efficacy of "natural" hormones

Safety and efficacy of "natural" hormones

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I am 61 years old, had a uterus-only hysterectomy at age 38 and have been using premarin for 10 years. My daughter is very concerned about "synthetic" hormones and is urging me to stop taking premarin and to start using "natural" hormones.

Has any research been done on the safety and efficacy of "natural" hormones? If so, what are the results of the research?

At present, I believe that the risks of premarin, for me, are outweighed by the benefits; but I would like to know more about these "natural" hormone products.  

Answer

Katrina Claghorn, MS, RD, registered dietitian at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

When you refer to "natural hormones" I assume you are referring to phytoestrogens which are in plant foods. Phytoestrogens are compounds in foods that appear to mimic human estrogen, but are much, much weaker. Refer to "Are soy products linked to cancer prevention?". We still do not fully understand how phytoestrogens function or their effects. However, we can not assume that because they are natural they are safer than their synthetic equivalents. Medical problems and medication interactions have been observed with some herbal products. Another problem with herbal compounds is the lack of standardization of ingredients. Products may contain excessive or negligible amounts of the active compounds. Consequently we advise you to be cautious about using these products and to tell your physician about any herbals you use.