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Replace Your Hormone Therapy

Many women who used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to combat the symptoms of menopause stopped taking these hormones after a large study last year showed that they increased a woman's risks for heart attack, breast cancer and stroke.

Other women have remained loyal to the treatment, citing such benefits as better memory, mood and sleep. How effective really is HRT for treating these symptoms?

As part of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), over 16,000 women ages 50 to 79 were randomly selected to receive either estrogen plus progestin or a placebo (essentially a sugar pill); neither the researchers nor the participants were aware which each had been given. Measures of quality of life were recorded initially, one year later, and after three years (in a smaller subset of these women).

Estrogen and progestin pills did not provide any significant improvements in the women's health in any quality-of-life area, including memory; sleep; sex life; depression; pain; energy levels; or emotional health. Hormone therapy was considered effective for treating hot flashes and night sweats only in 50- to 54-year-olds suffering these symptoms, however.

In another blow to HRT, this study from The New England Journal of Medicine shows that it does not appear to offer any meaningful effects to a woman's quality of life. Black cohosh and other herbs, as well as soy products, have shown some ability to safely fight menopausal symptoms, but there is still no consensus on their effectiveness. Despite the lack of many viable alternatives, hormone replacement therapy is not the way to go.


Hays J, Ockene JK, et al. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on health-related quality of life. The New England Journal of Medicine 2003:348(19), pp. 1839-1854.

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