HRT: Help Or Harm?

Flip through the health section of your newspaper and you might see another dire warning about the dangers of hormone replacement therapy. But before you run for the menopausal hills and suffer through another day of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and low libido, get the facts. HRT can, in fact, be very safe and, for many women, radically change how they feel -- for the better.

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Hormone Replacement Therapy Controversy

The uproar began in July 2003 when The Women's Health Initiative (WHI), during the largest government study on synthetic hormones ever conducted, halted its research after early results indicated that women using conventional hormone replacement therapy (specifically PremPro), had a much higher risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Critics of the study point out that the WHI study was not representative of women in their 40s and 50s -- women who were likely in the early years of peri or full menopause. In fact, the average age of the women involved in the study was 63, with an average time into menopause of 12 years -- therefore they were more likely to have other risks related to breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Notably, these women were taking PremPro (Premarin and Provera), a synthetic form of HRT.

Estrogen is not the enemy

Estrogen plays an important role in your body, contributing to the softness of the skin and to vaginal lubrication, helping maintain bone density and playing a crucial role in brain function.

Estrogen, however, is a double-edged sword. Too much estrogen without the balancing effects of its bedfellow progesterone, or the wrong kind of estrogen, can indeed be harmful. Having adequate estrogen but too little progesterone is called "estrogen dominance." Both too much and too little estrogen are dangerous scenarios.

Toxic estrogens

In addition, there's a growing concern about xenoestrogens, foreign manmade estrogens that can have toxic effects on the human body. These are found in most pesticides, plastics, acetones (e.g., nail polish remover) and in industrial pollutants such as PCBs. They can be toxic and, unlike natural hormones, they are not efficiently cleared from the body, so they tend to accumulate in the tissue over time. Even coffee can increase estrogen in the body.

Consider your HRT options

If you're experiencing symptoms of menopause or a hormone imbalance, consult with a trusted and open-minded physician who has a background in women's health and a clear interest in your long term well-being.

Armed with accurate information and a doctor who is knowledgeable about HRT, hormone replacement therapy can mean the difference between just adapting to feeling poorly the rest of your life or feeling good.

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