What is a hormone?
What's the big difference between natural verses synthetic hormones? Are they both the same?
Natural hormones are no more the same as synthetic hormones than methyl, ethyl, and isopropyl alcohol are the same. Look at the following subtle differences between wood alcohol, which causes blindness if you drink it, and ethyl alcohol, which is in beer and wine, and isopropyl alcohol, which is rubbing alcohol...
The slightest change in a carbon or hydrogen atom makes all the difference in the world.
Now look at natural progesterone compared to Provera® also known as medroxyprogesterone acetate or MPA. (MPA does not exist in nature. The big drug companies manufacture it as a "substitute" for our own natural progesterone.) MPA has an added functional group that allows the drug companies to go to our government and obtain a protected patent so they can protect their profits. Note that natural hormones cannot be patented. Since natural hormones are not patentable, most drug companies are not very interested in investing their research and development dollars into selling something that other companies can make also. This added functional group was invented mainly to allow the drug companies to make a profit; not to make the drug work better than natural progesterone. This functional group that is added to make MPA causes side effects in the body. This product does not work the same as natural progesterone.
What do we mean by the term "natural hormone"?
The term "natural" has to do with the biochemistry of hormones. Biochemistry is something most MD's and R.Ph.'s forget after they graduate from college. Many of the hormones that circulate in our bodies have been isolated and studied by scientists. Examples are insulin, progesterone, estrone, estradiol, estriol, and testosterone. Scientists have discovered the exact molecular make-up of hormones that is why you can look at the molecular structure of progesterone and compare it to MPA. Natural hormones are hormones that start out as phytoestrogens also known as plant estrogens. These plant estrogens come from sources like soybeans, yams, and red clover. These phytoestrogens are extracted from plants and converted in the most unnatural ways in laboratories with chemical reactions to the exact molecules that our bodies produce.
The term natural hormone is analogous to the terms bio-identical or human identical hormones. So when you here the term natural hormone that should mean that the hormone being discussed has the same atoms and the same molecular shape as your own hormones that your body makes. Natural hormones are exactly identical to your own hormones in every aspect of chemistry. A scientist cannot see any difference between your own progesterone and the natural progesterone powder a compounding pharmacist uses to make your prescription.
We cannot say the same for synthetic hormones. All synthetic hormones have functional groups added to their molecule. Not to make them work better than your own natural hormones (How could a synthetic hormone work better than your own natural hormones?) but to protect the drug company's patent on their drug molecule that they worked hard to develop. Drug companies spend a lot of money bringing new drugs to the market. There is nothing wrong with protecting your product. The problem comes in when the drug companies influence society to believe that their product is safer and healthier than the natural hormones they could make if they chose to put people before profits. These functional groups that are added to the synthetic hormones have more to do with profit than health.
These functional groups that are added to the molecule cause side effects in the human body. Our bodies were not designed to metabolize drugs like MPA or horse hormones. Here's a practical example of how one can prove that natural hormones are not the same as synthetic hormones...
Let's look at another important scientific reason why natural hormones (human identical hormones) are different from synthetic hormones.
The following diagram shows the basics of where our hormones originate and how they breakdown or metabolize into other active hormones in our bodies....
The diagram here shows us where our hormones come from and what they turn into. Most of our hormones metabolize or break down into other active hormones. For example, testosterone can break down into estradiol. This is amazing in its own right because testosterone and estradiol are about as different than day and night. It is amazing that it only takes one little reaction with an enzyme called aromatase that can convert a male hormone like testosterone into a female hormone estradiol.
Consider this; let's incorrectly assume that MPA and natural progesterone work exactly the same on progesterone receptors. Even if this were the case there is no possible way that MPA will metabolize into the same active metabolites as natural progesterone. So, MPA cannot convert into estradiol or testosterone, etc. The human body has a difficult time trying to break MPA down because the human body sees MPA as something foreign.
Hormones and Receptors...
Hormones work by linking to receptors inside cells that respond to very specific hormone signals. This hormone/receptor concept is similar to an analogy of a lock and key. The receptor is the lock and the hormone is the key. We all understand that if we have the correct key for a lock that we can open the lock. But what happens if we go and have a duplicate key made but the duplicate key is not an exact copy? Maybe the duplicate is just barely different from the original key. This duplicate key may or may not work based on the quality of the lock. The duplicate may only work if we jiggle it in the lock. The duplicate may get stuck in the lock so that we cannot remove it. This duplicate key is like synthetic hormones. Synthetic hormones do not fit our natural receptors exactly like natural hormones do. We do not have birth control pill receptor sites or Premarin® (horse hormone) receptor sites in our bodies. Sometimes the synthetic hormones will unlock a signal to a cell but many times it does other things to the cell. It may stay locked into the receptor for too long. (Kind of like having an unwanted guest in your home who doesn't want to leave.) It may damage the receptor. This is why synthetic hormones can cause side effects.
Interestingly, many physicians and pharmacists will say that there is no difference in synthetic hormones and natural hormones. Why is this? It is because they were never taught about natural hormones. When MD's and Pharmacists attend college they study drugs not natural hormones. We forget our physiology and focus on our pharmacology. Drug companies constantly detail us about their latest new drugs. The drug companies are not interested in natural hormones they cannot patent.