For some women, the news that Hormone Replacement Therapy is OK, has come 10 years too late. According to the host of 3AW’s Talking Health, Dr Sally Cockburn; “those of us who have borne the hormonal burden for our families all our adult lives and who are now in our 50s deserve better.”
Cockburn’s lament comes on the heels of a report discrediting a previous study’s finding that HRT for menopause raised the risk of blood clots, breast cancer and strokes. In July 2002, the publication of the first Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) report caused a dramatic drop in HRT use throughout the world. Now a major reappraisal by international experts, published in the peer-reviewed journal Climacteric (the official journal of the International Menopause Society), shows how the evidence has changed over the last 10 years, and supports a return to a “rational use of HRT, initiated near the menopause”.
When Jenni Murray heard that women in their 40s and 50s can now safely take HRT to help cope with their symptoms, she became very concerned. The 62 year old author thinks that HRT gave her breast cancer. At the age of 45, Murray began HRT and the various symptoms that plagued her such as the hot flushes, the night sweats and low moods miraculously disappeared. While enjoying her symptom free life, Murray managed to ignore the warnings that came from the Million Women Health study and after ten years of using HRT, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Menopause occurs when menstruation stops and fertility ends. Common understanding of the process is that the menopausal ovaries are useless and defunct and that diminished and inadequate oestrogen levels need to be supplemented in the form of HRT to ward off the terrible ravages of ageing such as osteoporosis, heart disease and lack of sexual libido. However this is incorrect for our ovaries do not shrivel up but continue to produce hormones, including oestrogens throughout the life cycle.
According to Sherrill Sellman author of Hormone Heresy:
Millions of menopausal women flock to their doctors’ offices each year seeking relief from such complaints as hot flushes, night sweats, bloating, indigestion, allergies, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, head hair loss, facial hair growth, mood swings, aging skin, irritability, foggy thinking, lack of concentration, anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, bone loss, and heavy bleeding. The common panacea prescribed for all these symptoms is usually HRT. All these presenting symptoms are lumped together into the menopausal pigeonhole, oestrogen deficiency is the diagnosis and synthetic estrogen replacement becomes the cure. An obvious and simple solution for hormonal imbalance! Or so we are led to believe.
It was after the Second World War that doctors first began to argue for the maintenance of high levels of hormones for menopausal women and by the 1960s pharmaceutical companies began to spread the myth that menopause was a medical condition. Prior to this time menopause was not a disease but a welcome stage in women’s lives that signalled the end of fertility.
Sellman claims that it is not a lack of oestrogen that is causing the ‘menopausal symptoms’ but an excess.
Unfortunately, women have been intentionally led on a merry hormone goose chase. While medicalizing and pathologising of menopausal women with potent, carcinogenic and dangerous steroid drugs has filled the coffers of the drug companies and doctors alike, the real cause of these health problems has been ignored. The World Health Organization has found that an overweight post menopausal woman has more oestrogen circulating in her body than a skinny pre-menopausal woman!!
Western women now have some of the highest oestrogen levels ever recorded in history due to exposure to medications such as the Pill and HRT along with estrogen mimics found in pesticides, herbicides, and plastics, as well as the hormones injected into feed lot cattle and farmed fish.
In HRT Licensed to Kill and Maim, author and investigative journalist Martin Walker introduces his readers to a little known world of women severely damaged by hormone replacement therapy prescribed for them by their trusted medical practitioners. When Ros, a busy wife, mother and carer told her doctor she was experiencing hot flushes and dizziness, he diagnosed the menopause and prescribed hormone replacement therapy. Six months later with Ros’s periods becoming heavier, her breasts enlarging and her moods worsening, the HRT dose was increased and at the age of 42 Ros had her uterus and ovaries removed. Her doctor had failed to tell her that her symptoms could have been caused by high, not low levels of circulating oestrogen and it was only on Ros’s insistence that her levels were finally tested and found to be extraordinarily high – measuring 2110 with normal around 400.
Over the past few decades HRT has become a drug for which the need has been created, rather than it being a therapy for a legitimate ailment. Menopause is simply the cessation of the menses, rather than some pathological condition for which we must be treated. In spite of the fact that exogenous oestrogens have been linked to cancers and other health conditions for many years, profit-hungry drug companies have continued to market HRT for the most trivial of reasons with major long term side effects.
Following the publication of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study 65 per cent of women on hormone therapy stopped taking HRT but two years later the message had faded and one in four women were back on the therapy. Now that this latest review recommends that the “classical use’ of hormone therapy be initiated near the menopause benefitting most women who have indications including significant menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis, it will be interesting to see how many women return to the HRT fold.