HRT Claims Challenged

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As the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study results on long-term use of hormone therapy continue to be analyzed, the unfounded health benefit claims for hormones continue to be debunked.

Data recently released show that hormone therapy had no clinically meaningful effect on the general health, vitality, mental health, depressive symptoms or sexual satisfaction of women participating in the WHI. One small group of women, the subgroup of women 50-54 who had moderate to severe hot flashes, did benefit. They received relief from their hot flashes, and their sleep improved, but even they had no improvement in any of the other outcomes measured including depression, vitality and sexual satisfaction.

"Hormone manufacturers have been skilfully and effectively skirting drug promotion restrictions for decades, persuading women and clinicians that hormone therapy will improve the mental health, sex lives and overall well-being of older women. In the last year, the Women's Health Initiative has proven that the long-term risks of these drugs are life-threatening and that the short-term benefits are nowhere near what women and their health care providers have been led to believe," stated Cynthia Pearson, Executive Director of the US National Women's Health Network.

"These companies deserve to go to the advertising hall of fame for their unparalleled success at convincing generation after generation of women that they would and did improve their health and their lives by taking hormones. And they deserve to go to the research hall of shame for putting those same women's lives at risk with unethical medical experimentation of an unprecedented scale," asserted Pearson.

Pearson suggested that taken together with the earlier WHI results showing that combined hormone therapy increases women's risk for breast cancer, stroke, blood clots and heart attacks, "what these findings mean is that the only women who should even consider hormone therapy are those who decide that their need to alleviate their hot flashes is great enough to outweigh the health risks of hormones." The New England Journal of Medicine editorial that accompanies the publication of this data estimates that between 10 and 20% of women experience "very distressing" vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes), although about 2/3rds of women have some experience with them. The editorial recommends that "Women with vasomotor symptoms must weigh risks associated with treatment against the benefit of symptom relief."


1969: A Premarin ad in the Journal of the American Medical Association quoted a physician saying that estrogen is "notorious for the sense of well-being it imparts."

1974: A Premarin ad in a medical journal read: "Mild to moderately depressed patients often begin to obtain benefit within a few days [...]. Anxiety [...] is also usually relieved in a relatively short time. And psychosomatic symptoms such as insomnia, crying spells, nervousness, feelings of weakness and fatigue may also be alleviated."

1997: A Premarin ad in a medical journal urged doctors "PREMARIN: You knew it was right for her when she entered menopause, to help her feel like herself again. Now, we are discovering the true potential of PREMARIN throughout every phase of her menopause [...] and beyond."

2000: Wyeth spokeswoman, Lauren Hutton, told Parade magazine estrogen is "good for your moods [...]. If I had to choose between all my creams and makeup for feeling and looking good, I'd take the estrogen."

Women’s Health Initiative: 1 year anniversary
To mark the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s Health Initiative study, which highlighted possible health risks associated with long-term hormone therapy use for menopausal women, the Canadian Women’s Health Network has now made several documents on menopause, hormone therapy and healthy aging available online and free of charge. Visit our "Health Topics" section at: