The After-Math of the Women’s Health Initiative Study: Is it Safe to Come out Now?

by Magnolia on July 31, 2011

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When the Women’s Health Initiative study came to a screeching halt in 2002 the fear of God rained down on physicians and their patients.

Terrified of putting women at risk for heart disease, breast cancer or stroke, many physicians stopped prescribing hormone replacement therapy for menopause, advising their patients to avoid hormones all together.

Unfortunately, much of the response to the study was extreme and knee-jerk, serving only to instill needless fear and worry in women.

The majority of the brouhaha revolved around the results of one particular study group. The women in this group – all over the age of 60 – took the synthetic hormones, Prempro, an estrogen-progesterone mix of Premarin and Provera, respectively.

The results of the study showed that women who took Prempro, had an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease of 24 percent.  While this is certainly noteworthy, the hysterical din that followed only served to distort the over-all results of the study.

For example, a factor in these results that has been often over-looked is that it was the synthetic progesterone, Provera, which was actually the problem.  More specifically, Provera was the problem when it was combined with the synthetic estrogen, Premarin.  It should also be noted that the age of these women (over 60), was a significant factor as well.

In fact, another group of women in the study, all under the age of 60, who took only Premarin, had remarkably different results.  Not only did these women not show any increase in the risk of breast cancer, but after five years of using the estrogen, they actually showed 61 percent less calcified plaque of their coronary arteries than their counterparts who took only a placebo.

While I am in no means tooting the horn for the effectiveness of Premarin, the results of this study group strongly suggest that for women under the age of 60, estrogen plays an important role in protecting against heart disease and breast cancer compared to women who take nothing at all.

And speaking of synthetic hormones, it should also be noted that bio-identical hormones  were not used in the study. This is important because there has not been one published study suggesting that bio-identical hormones increase the risk of breast cancer or heart disease in women.

The value of the Women’s Health Initiative study is that it showed estrogen plays an important role in protecting women against heart disease and breast cancer. Furthermore, the problem for women’s health does not lie in hormones themselves, but rather in synthetic hormones, particularly, Provera.

If you are suffering with perimenopause and menopause symptoms but have avoided hormone replacement therapy because of health concerns, by all means, see your doctor to discuss your options.  Concerns you may have regarding synthetic hormones are certainly warranted.  But, the good news is there are other options available.  Bio-identical hormones continue to be studied and researched with excellent results for women.

You can also rest yourself on the additional fact, that despite the foreboding results of the Women’s Health Initiative study, most researchers still agree that women should not hesitate to use hormone replacement therapy for the treatment of perimenopause and menopause symptoms.

Feel better? You can come out now, ladies.



Lundin, Mia, R.N.C., N.P., (2009). Female Brain Gone Insane: An Emergency Guide for Women Who Feel Like They Are Falling Apart.  Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications, Inc.

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