With all the controversy surrounding hormone replacement therapy (HRT), it’s hard to judge whether it’s the best option for you. Some women will quickly dismiss its use given its potential risks and side effects, while others find it to be an invaluable treatment for improving their quality of life. If you’re considering HRT to ease the uncomfortable and sometimes painful effects of hormonal changes, it’s important to know the potential benefits as well as possible side effects.
What Is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT restores hormone levels that have dipped in the body, usually due to menopause. Depending on your requirement, you may need just estrogen or estrogen along with progesterone or progestin (a synthetic hormone that mimics progesterone).1 The therapy can be administered through pills, patches, gels, pessaries, or implants. While the treatment has its share of risks, including the possibility of causing gallbladder disease or heightening the risk of endometrial and breast cancers, HRT has plenty of benefits, too.
HRT eases many of the symptoms associated with menopause, while also boosting your health in other ways. Here are some of the ways HRT can benefit you.
Keep Your Cool: Reduce Night Sweats And Hot Flashes
The biggest reason to choose HRT is to alleviate some of the problems associated with menopause, including night sweats and hot flashes.2 Hot flashes are believed to be the result of hormonal changes that affect your body’s ability to manage temperature. This can cause a sudden rush of heat through your body that can make you sweat, turn red, and even experience heart palpitations. This can happen from a few times a day up to 20! Some women are even plagued by hot flashes all the way into their 70s and 80s.3 This problem may also cause you to wake up drenched in sweat (night sweats). Since HRT restores the hormonal balance, it helps your body regulate temperature, which means you can avoid this discomfort.
Feel The Heat: Improve Your Sexual Pleasure
Discomfort caused by reduced lubrication can simply kill the mood. While the quality of your sex life depends on a multitude of factors, HRT can help ease the vaginal dryness linked to menopause. Some women also experience a loss of libido due to the lowered levels of testosterone and estrogen in the body that occurs when going through menopause, and after.4
If you only experience vaginal symptoms (and not hot flashes or night sweats), your doctor may prescribe HRT to be applied locally using creams, pessaries, or a ring that releases the hormone, instead of an oral HRT pill. Women who use HRT to ease vaginal symptoms have said they experience less pain and dryness during intercourse.5 It can also help prevent the thinning of vaginal walls. When vaginal walls become thin because of a drop in estrogen, they tend to break easily, leading to dryness, itching, and even infections. Intercourse also becomes painful.6
Stay Strong: Lower Your Risk Of Osteoporosis
HRT can help keep your bones strong and healthy by preserving bone integrity and stopping further loss of bone density linked to dipping hormone levels. This could mean lower risk of fractures. If you are under 60 years old, this is something you could potentially benefit from in a significant way. After 60, much of the bone loss may have already happened.7
Mellow Out: Ease Mood Swings
Another unpleasant side effect of menopause is mood swings, something HRT can help prevent as well. Studies have shown the potential for HRT to help psychological mood states in perimenopausal women.8 There are several theories about how this helps. Estrogen has been linked to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the modulation of mood.9 By balancing estrogen levels, HRT is thought to help tackle menopause-linked mood swings.
Some researchers also believe that vasomotor effects like hot flashes and night sweats cause sleep disturbance and disrupt mood for women during menopause.10 By helping improve these symptoms, HRT modulates mood as well.
Find Relief: Lower Anxiety And Mild Depression
Some women may also experience depression due to the physical changes and the emotional impact of realizing the body is aging. While there isn’t a complete consensus among medical professionals on how and to what extent HRT can ease psychiatric symptoms, there is some research to prove it can help. One study found that HRT reduced symptoms of both depression and anxiety experienced by menopausal women.11
If you are currently going through menopause and have symptoms of mild depression, you may benefit from HRT. However, if you have already gone through menopause, you may benefit more from taking antidepressants. Regardless, it’s essential to discuss your options with your doctor. Do not treat HRT as a substitute for an antidepressant, though.12
Research has also found that women taking estrogen replacement therapy found improvement in their sleep quality. Test subjects taking a three-month treatment found that HRT helped them fall asleep and also reduced nocturnal restlessness. This meant that they felt less tired after sleeping and throughout the day when on the therapy.13
Find Comfort Down Below: Reduce Urinary Infections And Mild Incontinence
Some women experience urinary tract infections (UTIs) or other urinary problems during menopause. Locally applied HRTs can go a long way in helping reduce these issues.14 Even mild urinary incontinence can be helped with HRT.15
The Cancer Debate
Some claim HRT can help lower the risk of colorectal or bowel cancer. However, updates from the National Cancer Institute indicate that there is no significant effect from HRT on protection from the risk of bowel cancer. In other words, HRT should not be used as a preventative treatment.16 On top of that, HRT has been associated with a heightened risk of some other cancers, including breast and endometrium, when using estrogen-only HRT or staying on the combined HRT for more than five years.17
Should You Try Hormone Replacement Therapy?
HRT is usually prescribed for a woman who is experiencing menopausal symptoms that affect her health and quality of life. You can weigh your options with help from your OB/GYN. However, due to the possible complications or heightened risks from using HRT, alternatives may be suggested if any of the following applies to you18:
- You are pregnant.
- You have high blood pressure problems that aren’t being treated.
- You have had ovarian, breast, or womb cancer.
- You have liver disease.
- You are prone to blood clots.
|↑1, ↑16||Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑2, ↑18||Hormone replacement therapy. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Hot flushes: how to cope. National Health Service.|
|↑4||Loss of libido.National Health Service.|
|↑5, ↑12, ↑14||Menopause: should I take HRT?. BMJ Publishing Group Limited 2016.|
|↑6, ↑7, ↑15, ↑17||Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and menopause. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.|
|↑8||Boyle, Gregory J., and Rachael Murrihy. “A preliminary study of hormone replacement therapy and psychological mood states in perimenopausal women.” Psychological reports 88, no. 1 (2001): 160-170.|
|↑9||Amin, Zenab, Turhan Canli, and C. Neill Epperson. “Effect of estrogen-serotonin interactions on mood and cognition.” Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience reviews 4, no. 1 (2005): 43-58.|
|↑10||Utian, Wulf H. “Psychosocial and socioeconomic burden of vasomotor symptoms in menopause: a comprehensive review.” Health and Quality of Life outcomes 3, no. 1 (2005): 47.|
|↑11||Yazici, Kemal, O. Pata, Aylin Yazici, Atıl Aktaş, S. Tot, and Arzu Kanik. “The effects of hormone replacement therapy in menopause on symptoms of anxiety and depression.” Turk psikiyatri dergisi= Turkish journal of psychiatry 14, no. 2 (2003): 101-105.|
|↑13||Polo-Kantola, Päivi, Risto Erkkola, Hans Helenius, Kerttu Irjala, and Olli Polo. “When does estrogen replacement therapy improve sleep quality?.” American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 178, no. 5 (1998): 1002-1009.|