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Bio-identical hormones are manufactured from plants, especially Mexican wild yams and soy, to be chemically the same as the hormones your body makes. 'Replacing the oestrogen that your body is no longer producing with the versions found in conventional HRT is like replacing parts designed for a Chevvy with those made for a Mercedes,' says Dr Jonathan Wright, medical director of Tahoma Clinic, Washington.'They may be almost the same, but with both engine parts and biology, very precise measurement matters.' women believe bio-identical hormones are safer because they are made from plant sources.In fact nearly all replacement hormones, both bio-identical and the ones in regular HRT, come originally from plant sources (although Premarin comes from horse urine).It's not the source that is the key, but how the chemicals are tweaked in the lab.What many women don't realise is that the replacements you get are not exactly the same as the versions your body was making before.For instance, because the oestrogen in widely-used brand Premarin comes from the urine of pregnant mares it contains forms of oestrogen normally found only in horses.Not only is this new HRT said to be more effective in treating menopausal symptoms, but it's also said to be safer.It contains the same hormones found in regular hormone therapy, but they come in a subtly different form known as 'bio-identical' - which means they have been chemically manufactured to be the same as the ones your body was making until it reached the menopause.
But this all changed after 2002 when a major study linked HRT to a much higher risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
When Ivana Daniell was in her mid-40s, she began to notice her body changing.
'I was becoming bloated and puffy and my energy was non-existent,' she says.
Disheartening for any woman, but for Ivana it was serious; she runs a Pilates and body conditioning studio for athletes and for people needing rehabilitation after injury - and looking well and fit is essential to her livelihood. After what had happened to me when I went on the Pill - nausea, headaches and a vanishing sex drive - there was no way I was going to start taking extra oestrogen in this form.' That was ten years ago and now Ivana is a remarkably sleek and fit 55-year-old.
'The most likely explanation seemed to be that I was moving into the menopause,' she says. And it's all thanks, she says, to a new form of HRT.Conventional HRT, on the other hand, uses hormones that are slightly different from the ones found in the body and are designed to achieve the same as the body's hormones.