HRT – Hormone Replacement Therapy

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In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative study sent the medical professionals prescribing hormone replacement therapy to their patients into a bonafide tail spin.

Terrified of putting women at risk for coronary heart disease, stroke or breast cancer, physicians abandoned HRT all together, advising their patients to do the same.

Few would argue the value of the study. The results were crystal clear:  Hormone replacement therapy put a study group at a 24 percent increased risk of breast cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.

What wasn’t so crystal clear, however, and unfortunately rarely made the nightly news, were other equally important results of the study, along with a few variables which greatly impacted what the overall results actually meant.

But, such is the way of the media, which always seem to be in search of the next great American health scare rather than digging deeper to understand the sometimes tedious details and facts.

Synthetic Hormones were the Problem

One of those tedious details is that the hormones which caused the problem were synthetic hormones and not bio-identical hormones.

This is an important distinction.  Because despite this fact, many women abandoned all hormone replacement therapy based solely on the results of the study.  An unfortunate and proverbial case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What’s more, it wasn’t just synthetic hormones that were the problem either. It was the synthetic progesterone Provera which was in question, and more specifically, when it was combined with synthetic estrogen Premarin in the form of Prempro, which was the actual problem.

When the women in the study group took Prempro, they did show an increased risk for breast cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. However, it should also be noted that another group in the study which did not take Prempro, but only Premarin (estrogen), did not show an increase in risk for any of these issues.

In fact, after five years, these same women actually showed 61 percent less calcified plaque in their coronary arteries compared to their counterparts who took a placebo. This suggests strongly that estrogen plays an important role in protecting women from coronary heart disease and stroke.

Again, a salient result in the study which hardly saw the light of day.

The Age of the Women in the Study Group was a Significant Factor

Another important variable which seemed to fall by the wayside amid the hysterical din is that the women who had an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer were all over the age of 60.

In contrast, the women who did not show an increase in any of these risk factors were all under the age of 60.  Another important factor to consider when making judgments on the outcome of the study.

What Can We Learn From the Women’s Health Initiative Study?

Without question, the results of the Women’s Health Initiative were significant and have had an important impact on our understanding of the safety and risks of hormone replacement therapy. But what is also important is that we should take all of the data and results of the study into consideration as a whole.

While it is abundantly clear that synthetic hormones pose a serious health risk to many women, it is also abundantly clear that it was synthetic progesterone rather than synthetic estrogen that was the bigger culprit.

Knowledge Empowers You AcronymCombine this with the fact that all of the women who had problems were over the age of 60, and you have a remarkably different picture than just “all hormones are unsafe for all women.”

The truth is, all hormones are not unsafe. There has not been one published study stating that bio-identical hormones are unsafe or put women at an extraordinary health risk.

On the other hand, it has been proven that synthetic hormones under certain conditions when given to a specific age group of women are unsafe, and put them at a higher risk for specific health issues.

So is Hormone Therapy Safe or Not?

Certainly, making a decision about whether you should choose hormone replacement therapy or not, is a personal decision which should be made between you and your physician. But, if you are concerned that all hormones are unhealthy and will put you at an increased risk for heart disease, breast cancer or stroke, that is not necessarily the case.

Yes, any substance we put into our bodies, both synthetic and bio-identical, come with some risk. However, understanding what those risks are, and under what conditions those risks are possible, is relevant and important information which can help you make an informed decision.

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