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Why Are Hormone Makers Still Pushing HRT?

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Would anyone believe a new study that found cigarettes are safe after all? Funded by cigarette manufacturers?

Not while Uncle Jack's got one lung and Grandad's lugging around oxygen!

Not when we know what Big Tobacco knew and when they knew it.

But "new studies" proclaiming that hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is safe after all, sponsored by hormone makers, are gaining traction. Even as more HRT risks were announced at this week's American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.

Maybe the 5,000 law suits women have filed over Prempro and Premarin are just a bad dream.

Menopausal women can realize the "benefits" of hormone therapy, say medical revisionists in new articles and marketing materials, if they just start therapy in their early 50's instead of 60's. According to the so-called "timing theory," hormone therapy can prevent or lower the risk of heart disease and even breast cancer - says one doctor - and prevent mental decline and diabetes to boot.

perimenopause

Doctors at the Philippine Society of Climacteric Medicine's "Problem Solving in Menopause Management" convention this month in San Juan City, averred that estrogen shields women from cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cognitive disorders, dementia, skin atrophy, atherosclerosis and even urge-stress incontinence, reports the Philippine news site tribuneonline.

In fact a "recent" study of 27,000 women found those who begin HRT before age 60 decreased their risk of death by 39 percent says the site - though the study was actually published in 2004 and its first author, Shelley R. Salpeter, MD, is listed as a paid consultant to Prempro and Premarin maker Wyeth in the American Journal of Medicine.

"The beneficial effects of HRT in younger postmenopausal women appear to be due to HRT's ability to increase high-density lipoproteins ("good" fats) and reduce low-density lipoproteins ("bad" fats), glucose, weight, insulin levels, the incidence of new onset diabetes and a handful of other risk factors for heart diseases," says Salpeter, clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, on the site.

Salpeter is not alone in trying to resuscitate HRT.

Last summer University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth offered a continuing medical education course titled a "A Fresh Look at Hormone Therapy," chaired by James A. Simon, MD a consultant and paid speaker for Wyeth.

"Estrogen deficiency, the hallmark of menopause, can diminish a woman's quality of life," begins the audacious "monograph" circa 1966 when "Feminine Forever," was a bestseller - segueing into hormone therapy's alleged "cardioprotective" properties, a decades long marketing claim never approved by the FDA.

Of course, most people realize that HRT instead of being the fountain of youth it was marketed as for 40 years, causes many of the conditions it was supposed to prevent - and the H could well stand for hoax.

In fact HRT is so dangerous, the federal Women's Health Initiative study (WHI) was stopped in 2002 so no more women would sustain adverse side effects.

Instead of preventing heart disease, it increases risk by 26 percent.

Instead of preventing stroke, it increases the risk by 41 percent.

Instead of preventing breast cancer, it increases the risk by 29 percent.

Instead of preventing blood clots, it doubles the risk.

And there's more.

Hormone therapy also increases the risk of ovarian cancer, dementia, asthma, malignant melanoma, urinary incontinence, gout, the need for joint replacement, gallbladder disease, dying of lung cancer, shrinking brains, and complicates diabetes according to other studies.

Nor do the adverse effects happen slowly. Findings from last year's San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium show HRT doubles the risk for breast cancer in just five years and increases the risk in just two years.

HRT is such a preventable cause of disease among women, US breast-cancer cases fell 7 percent and estrogen-positive cases 15 percent as soon as women turned their backs on HRT - sparing 14,000 women the first year. Cases of US women having heart attacks fell too according to the journal Medical Care and CNN. Such much for cardioprotective.

Now that HRT is recommended for the briefest possible use (if at all), hormone makers aren't proclaiming women should be on it from "menopause to death," like Wyeth's former CEO Robert Essner during HRT's golden age when Wyeth pocketed a cool $3 billion a year "replacing" women's hormones.

They now use the term "menopause transition" hoping the transition will last five years.

But whether HRT, antidepressants - increasingly recommended for menopause - or electroconvulsive therapy - once recommended for menopause - the take home message is still aging women are sick and need medication.

And the "timing" theory is all about the timing of revenue.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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