When Is It Too Late To Start HRT? | PYHP 126

When Is It Too Late To Start HRT? | PYHP 126

Progress Your Health Podcast
Progress Your Health Podcast
When Is It Too Late To Start HRT? | PYHP 126

When is it too Late to Start HRT?

Recently we received a great question/comment from a listener of our podcast (The Progress Your Health Podcast). I’ll call her ‘Jenny’ (because I never reveal any personal information for the sake of privacy). Jenny was wondering if she is too far into menopause to be able to take bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.

She has been post-menopausal for the last ten years, using an estradiol vaginal insert for her GSU/vaginal atrophy. Her pharmacist thought that changing her prescription and implementing bio-identical hormone replacement could help with her bones, cholesterol, and heart protection. This is an excellent question, as many other women have these same thoughts.

  • Am I too old to take/start bio-identical hormone therapy?
  • Are hormones going to help my cholesterol?
  • Is hormone therapy going to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease?
  • Can hormone replacement help with bone density?

Below is the question from our podcast listener:



I am a healthy and uber fit 60 yr woman who has been menopausal for ten years. My chief complaint is GSM. I have been on 10mcg Vagifem for this entire time, 3-6/week. Well-controlled. My cholesterol is 7! LDL 3.5 / HDL 3.28

I saw a pharmacist who is a BHRT specialist, and she recommends:

.25mg BiEst, 100mg progesterone and +- testosterone depending on levels. She thinks this will balance my hormones better, possibly improve my lipid profile, and protect my heart and bones. Am I too late in the game for BHRT? Do you agree with her suggestions?


What is GSM?

GSM stands for genitourinary syndrome of menopause. It is a new term that replaces vaginal atrophy. GSM and vaginal atrophy can be used interchangeably. Vaginal atrophy occurs when the estrogen levels drop causing changes in the vaginal tissues. Estrogen really primes the vaginal cells and will maturate them from parabasal cells into mature vaginal cells. When the estrogen drops in menopause, the tissues can become dry, with less lubrication and the tissues can become more fragile. This is where you will find pain or even bleeding (from the tissues tearing) with intercourse.

I like the term GSM, genitourinary syndrome of menopause because when the estrogen drops it can cause so much more than just dry, fragile vaginal tissues. It can cause the flora of the vaginal vault to change. This increases the risk of vaginal infections such as yeast/candida and bacterial vaginosis. It can also cause more increased risk for urinary tract infections. As well as urinary stress incontinence. The urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside world, aka the toilet), can become more lax when the estrogen levels drop in menopause.

This can cause urinary leakage with coughing, jumping, laughing, exercising, sneezing, doing crunches, jogging, walking, you get the drift. GSU/vaginal atrophy can be so mild that women do not even notice any changes. And other women can have such severe symptoms that they cannot even go for a walk without the tissues chaffing and causing pain.

Jenny had been using an estradiol vaginal insert (vagifem) to help with her GSM/vaginal atrophy symptoms and was getting excellent results. Ideally when using an estrogen vaginal application, the estrogen is not supposed to enter the bloodstream and just provide local symptoms relief. In my personal experiences with patients, I have found increased estradiol levels, when only using an estradiol insert.

So while in theory, the estradiol is only supposed to stay localized to the vaginal vault, it could be matriculating into the bloodstream. This is why I usually only use estriol vaginally for GSM. Estriol will not enter the bloodstream and will stay localized to the vaginal tissues. Estriol will also not have an effect on the uterus and cause thickened endometrial lining as you would see in estradiol.

Jenny’s pharmacist recommended adding in bio-identical hormone replacement (BHRT). This is where the questions we get sometimes don’t have enough information. Did Jenny’s pharmacist want to replace her estradiol vaginal insert? Or did she want to add the biest/progesterone/testosterone in addition to the vaginal application of estradiol?

These are two very different scenarios. The biest/progesterone/testosterone BHRT would be a systemic dosing, meaning the goal is to get it into the bloodstream. Biest (which is a combination of estriol and estradiol) would most likely be a transdermal cream/application. As well as the testosterone would be transdermal. Oral dosing of estrogen and testosterone is not well tolerated and puts a burden on the liver and has minimal absorption.

Progesterone can be dosed as a transdermal cream or oral. If a woman has a uterus and is taking any estradiol systemically, she should be taking the progesterone orally. Estradiol can thicken the uterine lining when taken without progesterone. Oral progesterone protects the uterine lining better than the cream form. My point being here, taking the biest/progesterone/testosterone systemically may not be enough to help Jenny’s GSM/vaginal atrophy. The vaginal tissues respond much better to a localized application for GSM.

I have many women taking their progesterone orally and their biest and testosterone transdermally in addition to a local application of estriol to the vaginal tissues. This is where you get the best of both worlds, a solution to the GSM symptoms plus the benefits of system BHRT. Those benefits range from better sleep, improved libido, ceasing hot flashes and night sweats, improved mood and hair/skin to name a few. So I do not think Jenny should replace her vaginal application with the BHRT. But should consider switching to estriol for the GSM.


Is Jenny too old to start BHRT?

The dose that Jenny’s pharmacist recommended was a very low dose of biest. The progesterone at 100mg is a very common dose. I am thinking her pharmacist wanted to start low on the biest and work their way up. It has been ten years since Jenny’s own body was producing hormones. When introducing the hormones after such a length of time can cause side effects. While the .25mg biest is very small, it is a wise choice to start low and slowly increase as needed.

It is much easier to start small and work up, then to overshoot the mark. Like I mentioned, 100mg of progesterone is a common dose. I do not go under 100mg of progesterone if a woman has a uterus to help prevent the lining from thickening when taking estrogen.

So to answer the question, Jenny is not too late to the table for BHRT. But I do think the longer a woman has not had hormones in their body, start small.


Cholesterol and the Hormone Connection:

Jenny mentions her cholesterol is high. Every country has different units for labs and lab values. A total cholesterol level for Jenny should be less than 5 (The U.S. has different units less than 200). Her total cholesterol is high at 7, which she is perplexed by because she is very healthy and a good exerciser.

There could be some familial genetic component at play here. I have lots of female patients who have higher cholesterol than you would expect given their lifestyle and dietary habits. But sometimes that darn genetics can have an influence. Also, the total cholesterol is misleading. What is more important is the breakdown of the cholesterol. Cholesterol is broken down into LDL (low density lipoprotein), VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), Triglycerides and HDL (high density lipoprotein).

The LDL and VLDL are considered the “bad cholesterol”. And the HDL is the beneficial cholesterol, the higher the better. Jenny’s HDLs are good, so having a high HDL can make the total look falsely elevated. I have some female patients whose HDLs are close to 100 (U.S. values), which is astonishing. But it will make their overall total cholesterol look high.

Also like I mentioned, the triglycerides are important to consider here. There is an equation you can do to see if you have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a marker for diabetes. You take your triglyceride and divided them by the HDL number. And if it is less than 1.5 you do not have insulin resistance. There are other factors to look at such as blood sugars and fasting insulin levels.

But it is a neat quick equation anyone can do if they have their cholesterol values. For example if someone had a triglyceride level of 130 and their HDL level was 50. 130 divided by 50 equals 2.6. That is looking like a risky factor for insulin resistance should be investigated. But lets say someone’s triglycerides are 100 and HDL is 75. 100 divided by 75 equals 1.333. That looks pretty good.

It is true that hormones, especially estrogen can help keep cholesterol levels down. This is why once a woman hits menopause you will see the cholesterol start to rise. So, yes, Jenny’s pharmacist is right that the hormones could in theory help her cholesterol levels. But as I mentioned above the biest dose is quite small at .25mg that you might not see much of a decrease in the total cholesterol for Jenny.


Other factors that are more important than cholesterol:

There are other factors that are more important that your LDL and total cholesterol. It might be of benefit to run some other testing for Jenny. Really to give her a piece of mind. She is very fit and obviously takes great care of herself, but seems to have more than likely familiar high cholesterol.

Running a LPa (lipoprotein A), Apo-b(Apolipoprotein B), NMR lipoprofile would give us a better insight into if Jenny’s higher cholesterol were really a risk factor for a cardiovascular event.


LPa (lipoprotein A): This is a test that you really only need to do once. It is more of a genetic marker that high cholesterol is going to cause a cardiovascular risk. If it is high then you have a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.


Apo-b (Apolipoprotein b): This helps differentiate if a high LDL level is dangerous. If the Apo-b is high then it is necessary to aggressively work on reducing the LDL cholesterol NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance): this is a lipid subfractionation test. This really breaks down the cholesterol profile to tell you if your cholesterol levels could be a risk.


Bone Density:

Jenny mentioned that the BHRT could help her bones. This is true, hormones are very helpful for bone density. That is why when women enter menopause they should get a baseline screening for bone density called a DEXA scan. Because you will see bone density decrease over time with post-menopausal women when the hormone levels are non-existent.

But like I mentioned before the biest dose is pretty small that it might not have an impact on Jenny’s bones. Now one of the best ways to preserve and build bone density is weight bearing exercise. Anything that allows your body weight on the ground. This would be walking, hiking, lifting weights, running. Runners always have good bone density (maybe not great joints long term:/). I would say, the fact that Jenny says she is uber fit must mean she exercises. That right there is helping her bones much more than a low dose hormone protocol.


Hormones: Take or Not to Take?

With the speed of innovation in social media and the internet, there is so much information on hormone replacement, healthy hormone strategies, menopause bellies, supplements, powders, gummies… There is almost too much information out there, making it hard to weed through to see what is beneficial and what is just not. Coming from a doctor that has worked with thousands of women with hormones since 2004, I will tell you, BHRT can have an amazing impact on your life and quality of life.

But it needs to be tailored to you. Because you are not one size fits all. Your hormone goals, lifestyle, genetics, even your personal environment, will have an impact on what your BHRT doses or the type of BHRT would be best for you. I have had women change their jobs, end marriages, get married/partnered, move, become empty nesters, and it changes what BHRT doses and types of hormones they are taking. We are always changing, growing, becoming stronger versions of ourselves. That means our supplements, BHRT and lifestyle change with our growing selves.


If you have any questions, that means many, many other women have the same concerns too. Feel free to reach out and send us a message on, Ask The Dr.


All content found in this blog, including: text, images, audio, video or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website and blog is to promote consumer/public understanding and general knowledge of various health topics. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition and before undertaking a new health care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. If your healthcare provider is not interested in discussing your health concern regarding this topic then it is time to find a new doctor.


Other Related Episodes: 

Episode 025: Who is a Candidate for BHRT?

Episode 085: Can You Take BHRT During Perimenopause?

Episode 105: Can BHRT Cause Weight Gain?

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