More Doubts Cast on Hormone Therapy Benefits

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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.