BHRT Is The Miracle Hormone Claiming To Give You Perfect Skin And Super Health

Jennifer George
·7-min read
Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images

From ELLE

It's a foggy morning in London. I’m on the phone – sheltering from the rain in a Chelsea doorway, late for my appointment – trying to coax my mother off the emotional see-saw she’s bouncing on.

‘JENNY! You’re trying to have a baby?’

No.

‘Oh god, JENNIFER! Can you NOT have babies? Am I never going to be a grandmother?’

No, that’s not it either, I tell her. Though, well, I’m not 100% sure, which is why...

‘JENNIFER ROSINA are you going through an early menopause? But you’re so YOUNG. When I was your age...’

I hang up before she can get my full three names out in dramatic exasperation, regretting that I’d mentioned I was on my way to see a hormone specialist.

For her, like many, the word ‘hormone’ implies two things: pregnancy or menopause. But now a canny cohort of young women are taking their hormones as seriously as they would any other aspect of their health and beauty regimes. The reason I’m off to have mine analysed (giving my mother heart palpitations) is for a specific health concern: weight gain.

I’m not fat, or even overweight. But, as I entered my mid-thirties, I’d begun to notice any weight I did want to lose just refused to shift. My diet habits remained the same (erratic but fairly healthy) and my exercise routine was consistent, so why did my Mom-fit jeans suddenly feel like sausage skins as I negotiated them up to my widening waist?

Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images

‘You’ve had your bloods done, right?’ asked a friend – one of those women who’s always ahead of the curve. You know the type: intermittent fasting in the early Noughties; pestering us to have preventative Botox in our twenties; using phrases like ‘cryo-chambers’ long before we knew what they were. ‘Everyone I know does. That’ll be your answer.’

‘Clued-up women who want to look after themselves with a 360 ̊ approach have started to add hormone treatments to their to-do list,’ says aesthetic doctor and hormone specialist Dr Paris Acharya. She’s seen a rise in premenopausal clients (as in not menopausal, not to be confused with peri-menopausal, when your body does start transitioning to menopause), usually off the back of aesthetics appointments. ‘They’ve tried Botox, then PRP [injecting your blood cells back into the skin to help it regenerate] and personalised supplements. This is the next step.’ The next step to what?

The easy answer is: everything. ‘Hormonal imbalance can be at the centre of so many issues,’ says Dr Acharya. ‘From stress to hair loss.’ Increasingly, young women are realising that balancing hormones isn’t just the answer to remedying PMS and period pain, but also less obviously related niggles, for which we might otherwise seek ‘tweakment’ solutions, such as skin concerns (unusual oiliness, pigmentation, even wrinkles) and shifting stubborn pounds.

It’s the latter that led me to Dr Martin Galy, an in-demand bio-identical hormone lead physician, and one of London’s leading prescribers of BHRT (bioidentical hormone replacement therapy). His speciality is supplementing your own hormones with bioidentical replacements that have the same chemical structure as those produced in the human body. It sounds a bit sci-fi, but insulin is a good example of this, prescribed to diabetics who lack it naturally to control blood sugar levels. As he swiftly takes blood to be sent off to an external lab for testing, he explains that, at all stages of a woman’s life, hormone imbalances ‘can spill out into physical issues’.

Although hormone levels can dip and surge throughout life, each decade has imbalances that are most common. Your twenties often come hand-in-hand with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), resulting in excess hair growth, acne, weight fluctuation and irregular periods – for this, bioidentical progesterone could be prescribed, to great effect. In your thirties, a number of factors can topple hormones out of whack. Stress shouldn’t be underestimated as a cause (leading to adrenal tiredness), and premenstrual syndrome, having children and the start of your fertility declining might manifest in bloating, extreme water retention and a dodgy metabolism. Your forties onwards is when the ‘middle-aged spread’ can appear, caused by a lack of oestrogen. Without it, your fat redistributes, causing your shape to change.

Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Igor Ustynskyy - Getty Images

Luckily for me, aside from the usual mild monthly PMS and the fact that I’m visiting him during a pandemic, I don’t have any reason to worry about my hormones or stress levels. What I’m here for is a quick fix to my weight worries, please.

Sadly, a ‘quick’ fix isn’t an option – at least not here, and not yet. But in the US, there is a loophole some people are taking advantage of: a ‘miracle injection’ of an extracted compound of HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a protein hormone present in high levels during early pregnancy, that will, its manufacturers say, unlock fat stores and lessen appetite. ‘30+ pounds to lose?! Appetite is suppressed, mood is up, energy is high and LIFE FEELS GOOD!’ says one clinic, which offers the injections (administered yourself, alongside a strict low-calorie diet) for $900. Two stone gone for under £700. Any chance I could get some of that?

That would be a no. Not least because it is still illegal to prescribe here in the UK, and probably will remain so due to the potential side effects from HCG, from fluid build-up to blood clots. But where America leads, we’ll no doubt follow in some way or another. And the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to managing our appearance via our hormones.

In the meantime, what gentle but effective solution do I need to rebalance my hormones and fit into my jeans? Sadly, and slightly embarrassingly, nothing. My general blood work is tip-top, and my hormones are... balanced. My thyroid profile is 'excellent' and oestrogen looks good. Progesterone is a bit low, which could, ever so slightly, be contributing to my weight gain; but not enough to prescribe anything – yet. I’ll check back with Dr Galy in a year for an ‘MOT’ and, if the levels have worsened, I could be given a prescription cocktail of hormones in the form of a capsule. When it comes to weight loss, results are usually seen after a few months, and your bloods are checked quarterly to adjust doses if needed.

Of course, this is good news. Maybe my diet is more erratic than I care to admit, and lockdown laziness hasn’t helped. But I can’t help feeling a bit silly, having gone through this process for aesthetic reasons. Dr Galy disagrees. ‘We encourage that!’ he says, kindly but genuinely. ‘Hormones are one of the major building blocks of maintaining health alongside diet, exercise and sleep. It’s important to look at everything holistically. So having a look at the inside can help fix what’s on the outside, and there’s nothing wrong with that.’ That’s his USP, actually: his wife co-runs their clinic 23MD, and happens to be one of London’s leading aesthetic doctors.

Dr Valeria Acampora, who practises from the prestigious Marion Gluck Clinic (recognised as the ‘home’ of hormone therapy in the UK), is equally passionate about hormone care outside of the menopausal demographic: ‘People used to be scared of ‘messing with’ their hormones, and even those curious about their health put us experts down the list after dermatologists and dieticians.’ Since the NHS still considers BHRT as ‘alternative’, it is rarely prescribed, meaning it currently is only available to those who can afford the fees (a consultation like mine with Dr Galy will set you back £380, not including the blood test). But things are looking up. ‘The results are undeniable,’ he says. ‘The whole scientific community is beginning to recognise that.’

Despite not leaving the clinic a dress size smaller, I walk out better informed. For women, especially, getting a clear picture of your hormonal profile could be game-changing, since it contributes to almost all aspects of your health. With patient profiles getting younger across the board, it seems a wider group are choosing the informed approach to wellness.

I call my mother to tell her the good news: that there’s nothing to worry about, I’m a healthy daughter. ‘Oh right, how nice,’ she says. ‘Anyway, about those grandchildren...’

She, on the other hand, might take some convincing.

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