Hormone Replacement Therapy Research Studies -Progress and Controversies

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The credibility of Hormone Replacement Therapy is yet to be conclusively proven.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Research has come a long way starting from the late 19th century, when a young woman was fed fresh ovaries of a cow (yes that is for real, as reported in the NYTimes Article ) to treat severe hot flashes after going through ovary removal surgery. It might sound terribly crude and an indecent method of treatment, but this effort turned to be quite effective and also lead to various studies and research to discover hormone treatment for menopausal women. However, the same has also given rise to controversial debate on the credibility of HRT during the later part of reproductive years with respect to safety and necessity.

  • After almost a century, during 1960s, hormonal treatment was being promoted as the method to keep the women feminine forever. However, scientists were still not sure about the harmful after-effects of the hormone medications and hence insisted on conducting more research studies before confirming HRT as safe and suitable.
  • By 1991 all the controversies were getting boiled down, but then the debate received a spark with the initiative of Dr. Bernadine Healy. Being the first woman administrator of National Institute of Health (NIH), she decided to conduct a serious study on HRT, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).  The $625 million study was planned for examining the pros and cons of hormonal medicines, vitamin D and calcium supplements and low-fat diets during the menopausal period. The study was conducted with a large number of participants, around 160,000 women, of which 26,000 were in the Hormone sub-study
  • The expectation from the study was incredible, including that this treatment would become effective for preventing chronic sickness and cardio-vascular problems. However, the outcome did not match the expectations; rather it increased the confusion by producing a combination of positive and negative results.
  • In 2002, the hormone study within the larger WHI was stopped abruptly as the results showed some serious side effects. The combination of estrogen and progestin hormone being given to women, seemed to be increasing the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. This to put it mildly, it “shocked” the world. Women quite taking HRT in droves
  • However, several subsequent studies confirmed that the risk for breast cancer and heart disease can vary depending on the age and health status of the individual.
  • The discussion on hormone replacement therapy took another sharp turn with the latest findings emerging from the study. As per a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, estrogen treatment for certain women has remarkably reduced the risk for breast cancer and heart problems. Wow!

The research on hormone replacement therapy has proved several issues during its long and unending journey. Nowadays, scientists have a better knowledge about the midlife crisis of a woman during her menopausal days. As per these studies, hormonal medicines are certainly risky for women, who have already past years of menopause. For them, the treatment will not prevent any disease; instead it will trigger the risk for all kinds of health hazards like heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and so on.

Confusion however remains with regards to HRT and women who are nearing menopause or going through menopause. The combinational hormone therapy has been associated with a prevalence of breast cancer, even if it treats the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. At the same time, evidence on calcium and vitamin D metabolism remains inconclusive.

According to Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, an investigator from Women’s Health Initiative, “I think there is unfortunately a tendency to oversimplify the idea that one size fits all. Women are different — it’s relevant to almost every medication and almost every intervention.”

More research will be needed to throw more conclusive light on the exact outcome of hormone replacement therapy. If you are interested in participating in clinical trials related to menopause and HRT, check out the several clinical trials that are being conducted currently.

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