Just Say NO to HRT!

by Joan Westlake

The following article is based on the most recent research (some of which the popular press has 'neglected' to tell us about!) and is re-printed with the kind permission of the author and S.W.E.A.T. Magazine. Joan Westlake has a background in pre-med and is the editor of S.W.E.A.T. Magazine, an excellent Southwest-based fitness magazine. For subscription information, please visit their website, www.sweatmagazine.com


HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), a cruel deception!

When historians look back on the 20th century, one of the cruelest deceptions foisted upon women will certainly be hormone replacement therapy. HRT, sold as the cure for that horrible illness menopause, is backed by a campaign started in the 70s. The marketing has been wildly successful because, for the past few years, pregnant horse urine – Premarin has been on of the top selling prescription drug in this country. (1) In 1997, SWEAT Magazine warned of potential deadly problems of HRT. Research is showing those warnings to be well founded.

Fortunately, women are making their own decisions about taking hormones. Despite being ridiculed, patronized and frightened by misinformed doctors, women are saying “No,” to hormone drugs. The makers of HRT report that a third of the women given HRT prescriptions never fill them. Of those who do, nearly half stop when the promises of youth and freedom from the menopause disease are replaced by migraines, bleeding, mood swings and other nasty side effects.

When Karen Mulford, Tempe, was in her early 40s, she went to her doctor. He said she was starting perimenopause [the period six to 15 years before menopause when most symptoms might occur] and put her HRT. When she turned 50, the travel book author said she wondered where her body would be without the drugs. The doc said she should be on it for life. She left the office, stopped cold turkey and, for a year, had no side effects except her periods stopped indicating she had completed menopause. .

When she returned a year later, the doctor convinced her to go back on a lower dose saying it would prevent the back hump formed by osteoporosis her grandmother had. Mulford said her mother had taken estrogen and didn't have one so it seemed to make sense. She added her mother had a much better diet than her grandmother did and exercised; both of which prevent osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, physicians and other health professionals continue to spout drug company misinformation.

SWEAT spoke with dozens of women in their late 40s to early 60s who said their doctors suggested they start on HRT even though they had no physical problems. Many were told they would suffer hot flashes, osteoporosis, physical signs of aging, mental problems and heart attacks if they did not. Many said they ignored their doctors and had none of the dire problems or even symptoms such as hot flashes. A few who had problems usually admitted to poor diets, little or no exercise, stressful jobs, more than a few glasses of alcohol daily and smoking.

Research is revealing that the reasons advocating taking HRT are false.

For example, the American Heart Association has been recommending HRT to prevent stroke and heart attacks. For a decade, scientists have questioned this; especially when diet and exercise are even more effective and the research on which this pro-hormone conclusion was based was questionable. In April of 2000, The Women's Health Initiative, a national study involving more than 27,000 postmenopausal women, announced their findings that HRT actually INCREASES the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

Maintaining youth and keeping skin soft is another HRT myth.

The Premarin insert plainly states:

“You may have heard that taking estrogen for long periods after menopause will keep your skin soft and supple and keep you feeling young. There is no evidence this is so and such long-term treatment may carry serious risks.”

HRT does not prevent osteoporosis

As for preventing osteoporosis, while estrogen therapy can reduce the decline of bone density, it can not stop it. (2)   Without adequate calcium intake and load bearing exercise, bones will degenerate no matter what drug you are taking. Sarah Bewely, a Florida writer, said her mother was on HRT for years yet her osteoporosis raged on. It was only when she changed her nutrition and added exercise that her bone density improved.

Many women are not informed of the risks of HRT!

Most women with whom we spoke were not informed of the real risks of HRT. The fact is, estrogen is a dangerous substance. The female body puts up with it for reproductive purposes but Mother Nature wisely reduces the threat when child bearing is no longer a priority.

HRT and Breast Cancer

Research continues to show taking estrogen increases a woman's chance of breast cancer. In 1995, the Nurses Health Study indicated those on estrogen had a 36 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer and those on estrogen and progestins had a 50 percent increase. Women in their early 60s who had taken the hormones for five years or more increased their cancer risk by 71 percent!

In January of this year, a study of 46,355 postmenopausal women taking part in the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Project indicated that HRT substantially increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. The study, published in the Jan. 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested that women who take a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin face a higher risk of breast cancer than previously believed. Originally, progestin was added to estrogen because estrogen alone increases the risk of uterine cancer and it was erroneously believed the combination would decrease that risk.

Doctors are so misled because drug companies play down the cancer risk by citing studies with few participants. For example, when the 1995 Nurses Health Study revealed a dramatic increase in breast cancer risk, the pharmaceutical companies barraged the media with a Seattle study that supposedly showed no increase. The problem was that while the Nurses Health Study was of 122,000 women, the Seattle was only 1,000. For the increased cancer risk to be detected in such a small group would have meant that the increase would have had to be more than 250 percent.

HRT and lung cancer

This spring, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center revealed why women were more vulnerable than men to developing deadly lung cancer. The hormone estrogen fuels lung cancer cells.

Safer Options

There are many, safe solutions to the aging problems being blamed on a drop in estrogen. Proper nutrition and exercise are wonder treatments staving off problems from high cholesterol and heart disease to osteoporosis and depression. Garlic and soy have proved to be effective in reducing cholesterol and heart disease. Progesterone cream (3) and herbs such as black cohosh reduce hot flashes (4). A popular Asian remedy, dong quai, has not lived up to its reputation in reducing hot flashes or decreasing bone loss, but the only studies done have not used it in the combinations traditionally required.

Because physicians receive all of their drug information from pharmaceutical companies with few reading their own journals, women need to educate themselves. Read, research and speak with other women. Over and over again, females in their 50s and 60s say it is the best time of their lives. They feel better and are happier than when they were younger. Maturing should be yet another exciting stage of life, not one that requires a drug that makes you more likely to develop cancer.(5)

Heartfelt thanks to Joan Westlake and S.W.E.A.T. Magazine for the permission to re-print this article!

Further info can be read: Another look at HRT

Endnotes (by Sue Widemark)

1. Wyeth, the manufacturer of Premarin, claims in their ads, that there are nine million women on the medication!

2. The Pharmaceutical Company, Lilly, in their comparison study of Evista, a specific medication for osteoporosis, and HRT claim that in their research, HRT reduced the decline of bone density by only 16 percent, not exactly an astounding rate!  Evista only reduced the loss of bone density by TWO PERCENT, and it had various side effects. Note: this information was in the 'full prescribing information' which is in PDF format and must be downloaded.  www.evista.com

3. Progesterone Cream lowered my HDL (the 'good') Choresterol - although it did help the symptoms of menopause.

4. Black Cohosh totally removed my symptoms of menopause but caused uterine bleeding after I had taken it for a couple of months.  Consulting an OB-GYN nurse practitioner, I found out that the cohosh causes uterine contractions, probably what caused my bleeding. When I ceased taking it, the bleeding stopped.

5. I am pretty convinced that menopause is just a stage we have to go through.  I don't understand why it has to be uncomfortable (i.e. hot flashes, sweats etc) but then, in order to participate in one of God's greatest gifts, the bringing of a child into the world, this, too is quite uncomfortable.  After having problems with the cohosh and the progesterone cream, I decided to grin and bear the symptoms without the help of any 'remedies', just as I did with natural childbirth years ago.  I did however, continue eating TOFU nightly but because of the protein and other good benefits thereof.  The symptoms raged on for a couple of months and then, along with my period, they disappeared completely and I felt well now, at the age of 55!   Unfortunately I started uterine bleeding a year later - in desperation, I began the Progesterone Cream twice a day. It stopped the bleeding and got me through menopause well. I still take it now. I no longer eat TOFU nightly however.

Sue Widemark

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