The truth about Hormone Replacement Therapy is coming out, and Southwest Florida’s Dr. Melissa (Mel) Irvine, DNP, is leading the way in correcting misconceptions about therapies that could be life-changing for many men and women. With over 15 years of medical experience, Dr. Mel is getting at the root of hormonal imbalance and its physical and emotional challenges to our overall health and wellness.
Misconceptions surrounding hormone therapies can make it difficult to distinguish truth from myth.
Myth #1: Hormones cause cancer
“This is the most common concern I hear,” said Dr. Mel. “It’s a fact that breast, uterine, prostate, and other gender-related cancers are vulnerable to excessive sex hormone levels, but hormone replacement in healthy adults at proper levels can actually help to reduce some cancer risks. It’s imperative to evaluate patients’ needs based on their unique circumstances to determine what’s best; and every patient, regardless of medical history, has options. Unfortunately, breast or prostate cancer patients are often not given options, and this is fundamentally wrong.”
Dr. Mel believes it is also important for patients to evaluate their provider. Hormones affect how we feel and can help us cope with stress and physical symptoms we experience. According to Dr. Mel, in general, many of our health care providers only have 3-10 hours of sexual education and do not specialize in hormonal systems. This often results in patients being placed on antidepressants or other medications that temporarily mask symptoms without doing a hormone panel to look for underlying hormonal imbalances that cause similar symptoms. “What guidelines say is normal may not be normal for you. I work with my patients one-on-one to help find their optimal range, which is unique to each individual,” explained Dr. Mel.
Myth #2: Hormones are only important if you’re having sex
Whether you’re single or in a relationship, it’s essential to understand the role of sex hormones beyond sexual wellness and how they affect overall health, relationships, and quality of life. When a hormone imbalance is left untreated, it can increase risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and other chronic conditions.
“Feeling sluggish or like you are not enjoying the same things that you used to? Feeling disconnected and unable to fully engage in everyday activities or relationships could be signs of a hormonal imbalance. Hormone Replacement Therapy can help,” explains Dr. Mel. “The most common symptoms are fatigue, decreased energy and libido, irritability, anxiety, depression, frequent bladder infections, hair loss, sleep disturbances, orgasm changes, erection changes, vaginal changes, weight gain, memory issues, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and hot flashes or night sweats.”
Myth #3: You only need to worry about it when you’re older
“For both men and women, the production of sex hormones lessens as we age, generally decreasing after 30. However, some may begin to experience it in their 20’s,” said Dr. Mel. “Hormone imbalance can occur at any age due to stress, lifestyle, medications, medical conditions (such as PCOS), and other factors.”
For women, Dr. Mel says changes can occur long before menopause and that once in menopause a woman will no longer produce three essential sex hormones, causing her symptoms to continue to worsen. “This is every woman’s reality, no matter their age,” said Dr. Mel. “Every woman will be in menopause someday which is a chronic stage in life and she will live 30-50% of her lifespan in menopause. It never goes away, but we can improve her quality of life through hormone replacement and lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.”
Myth #4: More is better
Testosterone is found in both men and women and has a role in joints, vulvovaginal tissue, moods, brain health, and the development of bones and muscles to name a few. However, men have more significant amounts of it, as it is associated with sperm production and erection. Excessive levels can cause health issues in either sex and can result from medical conditions such as PCOS and tumors in the adrenal glands, testicles, or ovaries. Though, the most common reason to experience abnormally high levels is due to anabolic steroid use.
“Any type of hormone manipulation should be monitored by a medical professional,” explained Dr. Mel. “Serious health conditions can result from high or low levels of testosterone in the body, including low sperm count and impotence to heart muscle damage and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.”
Myth #5: Hormones help you lose weight
“Hormones alone will not help you lose weight,” said Dr. Mel. “They can increase muscle mass, energy and mood, which may help with motivation, but it’s up to you to do the work and make lifestyle changes.”
There are natural ways to support hormone replacement therapy through diet and exercise. A high fat and sugar diet along with lack of activity can worsen symptoms. In contrast, a diet of nutrient-rich foods, including Omega-3, can help fight obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
“There is no one fix for everything. It’s a combination of treatments and a multimodal approach to care that provides the best outcomes. A healthy diet and regular exercise also works wonders for mental health!”
A sexual medicine expert like Dr. Mel can help diagnose an imbalance and manage hormone replacement therapy to improve symptoms and quality of life. Her practice is located at 9250 Corkscrew Rd., Ste. 5 in Estero. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit drmelirvine.com, or call 239-351-5663. You can also follow her on Facebook for news, updates, and special offers.
About Dr. Melissa (Mel) Irvine, DNP
Dr. Mel has been in the medical field for over 15 years and is a board-certified Nurse Practitioner. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Brenau Women’s College, in Gainesville, Georgia, her Master of Science in Nursing at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her doctorate degree at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Mel is passionate about empowering and educating women so they can be their own advocates and make the best-informed decisions regarding treatment options and quality of life. As a Sexual Medicine provider, she takes pride in providing high-quality personalized care to meet the sexual health needs of both men and women. Her interest in Sexual Medicine took her to San Diego, where she completed a preceptorship with the leading Sexual Medicine provider in the U.S., Dr. Irwin Goldstein. She is an avid learner and regularly attends educational training and conferences to stay current on the latest and most innovative treatment options.