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Bioidentical hormones, menopausal women, and the lure of the "natural" in US anti-aging medicine

In 2002, the Women's Health Initiative released results suggesting that use of postmenopausal hormone therapy (HRT) increased women's risks of stroke and breast cancer. In the years that followed, as rates of HRT prescription fell, another hormonal therapy rose in its wake: bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Anti-aging clinicians, the primary prescribers of BHRT, tout it as a safe and effective alternative to treat menopausal symptoms and, moreover, as a preventative therapy for age-related diseases and ailments. Through in-depth interviews with 31 US-based anti-aging clinicians and 25 female anti-aging patients, we analyze attitudes towards BHRT. We illustrate how these attitudes reveal broader contemporary values, discourses, and discomforts with menopause, aging, and biomedicine. The attraction to and promise of BHRT is rooted in the idea that it is a 'natural' therapy. BHRT is given both biomedical and embodied legitimacy by clinicians and patients because of its purported ability to become part of the body's 'natural' processes. The normative assumption that 'natural' is inherently 'good' not only places BHRT beyond reproach, but transforms its use into a health benefit. The clinical approach of anti-aging providers also plays a role by validating patients' embodied experiences and offering a 'holistic' solution to their symptoms, which anti-aging patients see as a striking contrast to their experiences with conventional biomedical health care. The perceived virtues of BHRT shed light on the rhetoric of anti-aging medicine and a deeply complicated relationship between conventional biomedicine, hormonal technologies, and women's bodies.


Fishman JR, Flatt MA, Settersten RA Jr. Bioidentical hormones, menopausal women, and the lure of the "natural" in U.S. anti-aging medicine. Soc Sci Med 2015;132:79-87

Content updated 20 September 2015

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