Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women in the form of estrogen products were first approved by the FDA in 1941 for symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness (1) and to put it bluntly, shriveling up.
One of the earliest known references to menopause is from an Egyptian medical text dated 2000 B.C.: “If a menopausal woman has pain or makes trouble, pound her hard on the jaw.”(2) or give a “decoction of myrrh and apples”, and if that did not work, “a cure may sometimes also be affected by pouring some of this same substance into her sandals, and urging the patient to walk.”(3)
As one of the countless women who came of age during the 1960’s – 1990’s decades of the strong belief that estrogen replacement was a simple, safe, and an effective way to “stay young” as my mother said, I trusted the powers that be in the medical research communities to say it was so. I had held even higher hopes that by the time I reached my 50’s, I would also be reaping the benefits of hormones for aging and other medical diseases that insidiously and disproportionately creep into our age group.
To take, or not to take, that remains the question– I am still waiting for the experts in most every disease discipline to agree and assure me that the HRT patch I faithfully wear is safe and not going to send me to a pre-mature end with breast cancer (Hormones Matter recently reported on the evolving research on HRT and links to breast cancer), stroke, and other such dramatic events.
There are as many conflicting research studies and articles on this subject as there are critics of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) whose data abruptly halted any confidence in giving HRT to women by their physicians in 2002. Instead of putting our fears to rest, it has created more. What we do know is that it’s possible that HRT can prevent or decrease bone loss, colorectal cancer, and yes, heart disease and possibly deter Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term studies and additional research are needed now, in order to address all women’s concerns about their life and health after menopause. What I know for sure is that I feel better on HRT than off, that my aunt Viv who was a lot younger than my mom, had more wrinkles, more heart disease and breast cancer and she did not take estrogen replacement. This leads me to believe that until adequate hormone research is done, all women are walking research studies without any endpoints.
1 Carla J. Rothenberg Harvard Law School, Class of 2000 April 25, 2005
2 Barbara Seaman, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth 7 (2003)