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More Doubts Cast on Hormone Therapy Benefits

Two recently released medical studies provided more damning evidence that giving female hormones to older women does little to improve their health and may in fact harm it.

The studies found that the treatments do not protect women from heart disease, as doctors once believed, and one of the studies found that giving hormones to women actually increases their risk of heart attack.

Both studies appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, which published a separate piece of research earlier this year suggesting the health risks of estrogen and progestin treatments for older women outweigh the benefits.

In one study, researchers found that women taking estrogen and progestin increase their risk of a heart attack by 81% in the first year.

The findings, the researchers said, mean that most women who are taking the hormones should stop, and those who have reached menopause should not start.

Although hormone supplements may reduce the risk of hip fracture and colorectal cancer, they increase the likelihood of stroke by 41%, the longer-term risk of a heart attack by 29%, and the chance of breast cancer by 26%.

The second study found that the arteries of 150 women taking hormone supplements clogged just as rapidly as the 76 women taking a placebo.

For years, conventional medical wisdom asserted that replacing the estrogen lost after menopause protected against heart disease. Until recently, there has been a nearly unshakable belief in the benefits of hormone therapy, even when studies, beginning in 1998, revealed there was no benefit.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, August 7, 2003.