July 28, 2004
Scottsdale doctors are divided over a therapy touted by some as a "natural alternative" to hormone replacement therapy.
Local obstetricians and gynecologists are using biologically identical hormone replacement therapy to treat hormone imbalances and nutrient deficiencies in women and men.
Treatments include using creams of progesterone derived from yams and estrogen taken from soy and natural hormone "pellets" inserted beneath the skin.
When the National Institutes of Health halted a major study of women on hormone replacement therapy in 2002, millions of women nationwide had to decide whether to continue the therapy. Like Sandy Carlson, 61, they weren’t sure whether the significant health risks — increased risk for heart disease, stroke and breast cancer — were worth the benefit of therapy.
Before the study, Carlson used Prempro, a synthetic form of estrogen and progesterone, for 14 years.
"I tried to go off the synthetic hormones twice, but I experienced hot flashes," said Carlson, a Phoenix resident, formerly of Scottsdale.
Carlson first heard about biologically identical hormone replacement therapy through a television interview with actress Suzanne Somers on her book "The Sexy Years." Carlson sought help from Dr. Laurence Webster, founder of Innerfusion Health Clinic in Scottsdale, who offers plantderived hormone creams, and plans to soon provide testosterone and estrogen implants to clients.
Webster will give a free seminar today in Scottsdale, with pharmacist Terri Weisenbach of College Pharmacy, a Colorado compounding pharmacy.
Webster and Weisenbach said that biologically identical hormones more closely resemble hormones found in the human body than synthetic hormones used in hormone replacement therapy. For example, Premarin, a form of estrogen used in hormone replacement therapy, is derived from horse urine and contains 20 kinds of equine estrogen, none of which is identical to that of a woman, Weisenbach said. Estrogen derived from soy is "molecularly and functionally the same" as estrogen found in the female body, Weisenbach said.
Scottsdale doctor Gino Tutera developed and patented a method of biologically identical hormone replacement called "Sotto Pelle" in 1992 at his Palm Desert, Calif., clinic. The therapy uses small implants of estradiol and testosterone that are inserted under the skin to treat menstrual migraine headaches, postpartum depression and testosterone deficiency.
Other physicians said they believe biologically identical hormones have not been sufficiently tested. Dr. Ingrid Haas, a Scottsdale gynecologist, said she has used biologically identical hormone replacement for 15 to 20 years. Yet if her patients choose the therapy, Haas reminds them that "these are still hormones," and "they’ve never been studied as to their risk-benefit ratio," she said.
Scottsdale obstetrician and gynecologist John Harpenau said he is cautious of biologically identical hormone replacement because there are no in-depth studies, such as double-blinded, randomized, controlled studies.
"That is the gold standard in researching any type of medical problem or medicines," he said.
"Menopause," free educational seminar by Dr. Laurence Webster of Innerfusion Health Clinic and pharmacist Terri Weisenbach of College Pharmacy: 7 p.m. today at the ACC Banquet Facility, 8849 E. Cholla St., Scottsdale. Information or reservations: (800) 888-9358, Ext. 133. "Hot Flashes, Hormones and Natural HRT," free seminar by Dr. Susan Kaib of Kronos Optimal Health Centre: 6 p.m. Aug. 19 at Kronos Optimal Health Centre, 15211 N. Kierland Blvd., Suite 200, Phoenix. Information: (480) 483-4242.