Woman shuns HRT in favour of controversial plant-based hormone4 min read

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A woman who said she lost all her confidence after suffering excruciating menopause symptoms for years has shunned HRT in favour of a ‘life-changing’ ‘natural’ cream. 

Denise Harding, 57, from Kent, went through the early menopause after having a hysterectomy at 32. 

She suffered from menopause symptoms for years, including hot flushes, feeling down, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia and incontinence. 

The mother-of-four was prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by her GP, but stopped taking them after ten years in 2015, after she gained almost three stone and suffered concerns over her blood pressure. 

Denise Harding, 57, from Kent, went through the early menopause after having a hysterectomy at 32. She claims a controversial plant-based alternative to HRT helped alleviate her symptoms

Denise Harding, 57, from Kent, went through the early menopause after having a hysterectomy at 32. She claims a controversial plant-based alternative to HRT helped alleviate her symptoms

Denise, pictured with family, experienced a return of menopause symptoms after coming off HRT, describing how she would wake up from hot flushes and was uninterested in sex

Denise, pictured with family, experienced a return of menopause symptoms after coming off HRT, describing how she would wake up from hot flushes and was uninterested in sex

However her menopause side effects quickly returned once she came off HRT.

‘I couldn’t sleep at night and when I did drop off I woke up drenched in sweat having a hot flush,’ she recalled. ‘I moved into a separate bedroom to my husband, Jack, and having sex was the last thing I felt like doing. 

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‘During the day I was constantly tired and moody, and the incontinence was so bad that I couldn’t go anywhere without wearing a pad in my knickers.’

Desperate for an alternative, Denise contacted Dr Shirin Lakhani, of Elite Aesthetics, who suggested that she try the controversial Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy. 

Denise Harding (pictured), 57, from Kent, suffered debilitating menopause symptoms for years, including hot flushes, feeling down, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia and incontinence

Denise Harding (pictured), 57, from Kent, suffered debilitating menopause symptoms for years, including hot flushes, feeling down, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia and incontinence

Are plant-based hormones the answer to menopause symptoms?

Bioidentical hormones are plant-based and promoted as a more natural, gentler form of HRT. Derived from plants such as Mexican yams, they have the same structure as the hormones made naturally in the body and, like conventional HRT, combat the menopause by raising levels of oestrogen.

They are available only privately, costing around £350 for a year’s supply, and preparations are custom-mixed for individual patients, based on the results of a blood or saliva test. They can be given as a lozenge, patch, cream or vaginal gel. 

Advocates say the fact they are chemically identical to human hormones means they are safer than conventional HRT and have fewer side-effects. However, doctors warn they are unregulated and so do not have to undergo the same level of testing.

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The NHS does not recommend bioidentical hormones, saying it is unclear how safe or effective they are, and the British Menopause Society has warned they are prescribed by ‘clinicians who usually do not have any recognised menopause training’.

Meanwhile, critics query how natural these hormones really are, since they are processed in laboratories so they match human ones. Exempt from NHS supply chain pressures, which are affecting its stocks of HRT, bioidentical hormones are still available — but Dr Heather Currie, an obstetrician, advises against switching.

‘The HRT we prescribe has been fully tested and we know the doses of the hormones it contains — people don’t necessarily know what they are getting with [custom-mixed bioidentical] preparations,’ she says. 

Advocates say the fact they are chemically identical to human hormones means they are safer than conventional HRT and have fewer side-effects. 

However, doctors warn they are unregulated and so do not have to undergo the same level of testing. 

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The grandmother-of-seven, who runs her own furniture business, lost 9lbs in the first month and said she saw ‘virtually all of her menopause symptoms disappear’.  

‘The best thing is that it didn’t even involve taking a tablet, I just had to rub the cream on my wrists each morning,’ she added. 

The grandmother-of-seven (pictured), who runs her own furniture business, lost 9lbs in the first month and said she saw 'virtually all of her menopause symptoms disappear'

The grandmother-of-seven (pictured), who runs her own furniture business, lost 9lbs in the first month and said she saw ‘virtually all of her menopause symptoms disappear’

Bio-identical hormones are plant-based hormone preparations which are identical molecules to those produced by the body, and are said to be specifically tailored to the individual. 

They are available only privately, costing around £350 for a year’s supply, and preparations are custom-mixed for individual patients, based on the results of a blood or saliva test. 

Speaking on the benefits, she said: ‘I lost 9lbs in the first month, my hot flushes, panic-attacks, anxiety, and mood-swings stopped, and I could sleep at night.  

‘The only thing that still affected me was the debilitating incontinence so in 2017 I had the non-surgical O-Shot procedure. The results were instant.’