From the Journals

Limit customized compounded hormones to special circumstances


The use of compounded bioidentical hormone therapies should be limited to patients who are not able to use a hormone therapy product approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reasons of allergy or dosage, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Mature woman resting on sofa and having hot flash. yacobchuk/Getty Images

In recent years, compounded bioidentical hormone therapies (cBHTs) have been “marketed as a personalized and natural approach to enhanced wellness using tailored preparations that address a myriad of symptoms, including those associated with menopause and aging,” wrote Donald R. Mattison, MD, of the University of Ottawa, and chair of the committee charged with producing the report, and colleagues.

Although both cBHTs and bioidentical hormone therapies (BHTs) contain hormones that are structurally and chemically identical to those in the human body, cBHTs have not undergone the safety, efficacy, and quality control tests of approved FDA products, according to the report.

In addition, cBHTs have no standardization when it comes to medication doses, and the products often are available in topicals such as creams or ointments, as well as pills or pellets. The lack of standards in dosing or form can contribute to the risk of overdose, the report emphasized.

Various cBTH products continue to be marketed to the public for age-related hormone symptoms including hot flashes associated with menopause and decreased muscle mass associated with decreased testosterone. However, cBHTs are not approved by the FDA in part because the individually mixed products are not tested to verify the amount of hormone that may be absorbed.

In response to the increased use of cBHTs, the National Academies convened a Committee on the Clinical Utility of Treating Patients with Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy and commissioned a report.

The two typical reasons to prescribe cBHT are either to provide a medication in an alternate dose not available in approved products or to omit components of a medication to which a patient is allergic, according to the report.

The report includes an algorithm to help guide clinicians in prescribing FDA-approved products, including off-label use of approved products, before cBHT products. “There is a dearth of high-quality evidence ... available to establish whether cBHT preparations are safe or efficacious for their prescribed uses,” the report states.

Of note, the committee also found no guidelines to recommend the use of cBHT products as a substitute for off-label use of FDA-approved BHT products for patients with female sexual dysfunction or gender dysphoria, two conditions for which no FDA-approved BHT products exist.

“The North American Menopause Society applauds the efforts of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and endorses their recommendations on compounded bioidentical hormone therapy,” Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, medical director of The North American Menopause Society, wrote in a statement. “As a society, we remain committed to improving the care of midlife women through the promotion of evidence-based research, education, and clinical care.”

A report on the use of cBHTs was important at this time because of the widespread and largely unregulated use of these products with little data to support their safety and efficacy, Dr. Faubion said in an interview.

“There are no indications for use of custom compounded hormone therapy aside from an allergy to a component in the FDA-approved products or lack of availability of the needed dose, which would be exceedingly rare given the variety of forms and doses available with FDA-approved products,” she said.

Main concerns regarding the use of cBHTs are the lack of safety and efficacy data, Dr. Faubion emphasized. “Women believe these products are safer than FDA-approved products because they do not receive a package insert outlining potential risks as they do with FDA-approved products.” A lack of data and safety monitoring of cBHTs means that adverse effects are not monitored and reported, she said. Also, safety concerns persist regarding some forms of cBHTs such as pellets, which were specifically highlighted in the report.

Dr. Faubion said that she “absolutely” agrees with the report’s limited circumstances in which the used of cBHTs would be appropriate. “There are very few reasons why women would need to use compounded hormones instead of the FDA-approved versions, which are regulated for quality, efficacy and safety, readily available in the local pharmacy, and often covered by insurance.”

In terms of the future, “we need more education for women as consumers and for medical providers on this topic,” Dr. Faubion noted. Also, “clearly, there is a dearth of research on the true efficacy and safety of these compounded hormone therapy products.”

Dr. Lubna Pal, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Lubna Pal

The statement from the National Academies crystallizes what experts have been saying for decades, according to Lubna Pal, MBBS, director of the menopause program at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

The formal recommendations to limit the use of cBHTs “are not novel, but certainly needed,” and the statement “offers guidance regardless of your specialty,” Dr. Pal said in an interview.

There is often a disconnect between consumers’ understanding of compounding and the reality of safety concerns, she said. “We are in a tabloid era,” and education is key to guiding patients toward the FDA-approved treatments with safety data and demonstrated effectiveness, she said. “Safety should be the driving factor.” In compounded products, “there is no consistency that what you get today is the same as what you get tomorrow,” and the lack of standardization of cBHTs increases the risk for adverse events, she emphasized.

For patients with special needs such as allergies or other specialized dosing requirements, as noted in the National Academies statement, clinicians should discuss the options with patients and monitor them regularly to head off potential adverse events such as the development of uterine cancer, said Dr. Pal, who is a member of the Ob.Gyn. News editorial advisory board.

The research involved in creating the report was supported by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Faubion had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Pal had no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Mattison DR et al.; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The clinical utility of compounded bioidentical hormone therapy: A review of safety, effectiveness, and use. (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2020.)

Next Article: