“Hormones are the juice of life,” said Suzanne Somers last week, according to an article in the New York Times.
The self proclaimed menopause guru to millions touted “bio-identical” hormones, which can be prescribed by doctors in customized doses and prepared individually by pharmacies. She reassures women that they are safe and has articles from medical journals to back her claim.
Dr. Lynne T. Shuster, the director of women’s health clinic at the Mayo Clinic, does not quite agree. She believes that the safety and effectiveness of “bio-identical hormones” needs to be studied more closely and, unlike branded hormone therapy, has not been approved the F.D.A.. Shuster, and many other doctors, believe that menopausal hormone treatments can be very worthwhile, but full disclosure of its benefits and risks is essential.
According to Vitals.com, Dr. Shuster completed both her medical degree and residency at Mayo Medical School.
Hormone treatment is big business and full disclosure is not always good for sales. Millions of dollars have been spent by drug companies using celebrities and other means to create a positive preventative health message that drowns out the risks.
Menopause became a diagnosed degenerative disease, which required prevention or cured with hormones in the 1960’s. Dr. Robert A. Wilson, a gynecologist, stated in his popular book “Forever Feminine:”
“No woman can be sure of escaping the horror of this living decay. There is no need for either valor or pretense. The need is for hormones.”
And so the backbone was laid. Drugs such as Premarin, an estrogen derived from the urine of female horses, were developed to treat the “menopausal disease,” creating massive profits for drug companies.
Women flocked to use this miraculous drug, but increasing numbers of cases of endometrial cancer were reported. A warning was finally added to the label, although the drug company never further researched the connection. Boston Medical Center has estimated that the drug caused more than 15,000 cases of endometrial cancer in the United States between the years 1971-1975 alone.
Wyatt shifted their attention from Premarin’s risks to a study released in the 1990’s that reported the protective effect of hormonal drugs on the heart. They developed Prempro, which was a combination of Premarin and the hormone progestin. Celebrity icon, Lauren Hutton, running down the beach on TV advised women that estrogen replacement during menopause could protect their heart and their future.
Research studies strongly disagreed with Lauren Hutton and Wyatt. In 2002 the largest clinical trial ever was halted, because participants who took combined hormones showed an increased risk of breast cancer as well as heart attack, stroke and blood clots in the lungs. They later found that these drugs also increased the risk of dementia in participants 65 and older.
The lawsuits that resulted offer a disturbing look of how pharmaceutical companies function and how in the pursuit of profit trust was breached. Because of their lack of disclosure of both benefits and risks, they’ve cast a shadow over an effective therapy for women facing menopause.