Hormone Replacement Therapy

By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Relief from the symptoms of menopause and PMS has been a quest for many women over the centuries. There are natural remedies that have been used by countless women throughout history, but modern medicine thought they could do better by introducing synthetic drugs to provide a quick, easy solution to the problem. In our “pop a pill” society, the use of such drugs was a big hit, and millions of women trusted their doctors that this was a safe, effective alternative. However, as it turns out, hormone replacement therapy was discovered to be a dangerous course of action that exposed women to greater risks for certain deadly diseases.

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT as it is commonly called, was originally known as Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT), as estrogen was the only hormone involved. Since the 1960’s, it is more commonly known as HRT because combinations of estrogen and progestin are used as well as, less commonly, estrogen alone. HRT is a treatment that seeks to artificially control the balance of hormones, mainly estrogen, in the body. It is most often prescribed for menopausal and premenopausal women, although a small percentage of HRT has other applications such as a usage in women after a hysterectomy or in certain transgenderal situations.

HRT is a classic example of how modern medicine takes risks by toying with the natural balance and order of life. Once considered a boon to women everywhere, it soon became apparent that HRT was a tragic mistake that cost many women their wellness and even their lives in some cases. HRT was originally thought to decrease many of the unwanted side-effects of menopause and to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease in older women. Not only was this proven wrong, but in fact HRT has increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and many other dangerous conditions. Even the mainstream medical community was forced to admit that the risks of HRT far outweigh the potential benefits. In this article we will discuss some of the dangers of traditional HRT, as well as some safe and effective alternatives to synthetic hormones that are available in lieu of HRT.

What Are the Basics of HRT?

HRT was a standard prescription for the relief of menopausal symptoms for many years. It was given to alleviate common menopausal effects that result from diminished amounts of hormones such as estrogen in the system of older women. These symptoms included hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep dysfunction, lowered libido, and mood swings. Everything changed in 2002 when the medical community was turned on its head by the discovery that HRT was a very risky procedure that exposed women to several critical diseases. The National Institutes of Health released findings in a study they had conducted that indicted HRT with increasing the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and dementia. The study was called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), and it changed the thinking on the risks vs. benefits of HRT forever.

The administration of synthetic hormones is still in use today, but the medical community has changed the way they recommend it. Long-term use is very rare today, but short-term use of HRT (4 years or less) is still often recommended, despite the risks. There are two major forms of HRT:

  • Combination of estrogen and progestin: This is the most common form of HRT, and is also associated with the most dangerous side-effects. In addition to the risks, it has also been proven that for many menopausal symptoms, the benefit of these drugs is minimal at best. These include emotional health such as mood swings and depression, lowered sexual desire, sleep disorders, and overall energy levels. Relief from hot flashes and vaginal dryness are the most commonly reported benefits, but the dangers far outweigh any benefits gained. Here is a summary of the down side of HRT with combination hormones:
  • A 26% increase in the risk for breast cancer. This so alarmed researchers, that this phase of the WHI was cut prematurely due to the dangers.
  • A 29% increase in heart attacks for women taking estrogen and progestin. This was the exact opposite of what proponents of HRT had been preaching-that its use would reduce heart disease in older women. It was thought that more estrogen would decrease “bad” cholesterol levels, while simultaneously raising “good” cholesterol levels. This thinking backfired, as is so often the case when we try to take things into our own hands instead of letting nature take its course.
  • A 41% increase in strokes. Obviously these drugs are not good for the cardiovascular system.
  • Blood clots: Increased amounts of synthetic estrogen cause a significant rise in the risk for dangerous blood clots too. This is also the case with women who are taking birth control pills.
  • Osteoporosis: While studies have shown that there may be a short-term benefit for better bone density to prevent fractures, if HRT is discontinued, the benefit stops immediately. In order for women in the 75-80 year old age bracket to maintain greater bone density through the use of artificial hormones, HRT must be continued long term, something even mainstream medicine recommends as a dangerous practice. Surely there must be a better way to strengthen bones than to sacrifice your health. And, there certainly is, as we will discuss below.
  • Estrogen-alone therapy: This less often used form of HRT is mainly prescribed for women who have had surgery such as a hysterectomy, in order to help them through what amounts to artificially induced menopause. Research indicates the following dangers associated with estrogen-alone therapy:
  • Stroke: The estrogen only phase of the WHI was stopped early because the use of this form of HRT drastically increased the rate of stroke in women.
  • Ovarian cancer: The National Cancer Institute reported findings in 2002 that the use of estrogen alone increased the risk for ovarian cancer. Long-term use (20 years or more) triples one’s risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Uterine/Endometrial cancer: Women who use estrogen-alone HRT have a 6-8 times greater chance of developing these types of cancers.

Other side effects of HRT have been identified as well. They include:

  • Uterine fibroids
  • Liver damage
  • Gall bladder damage
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Birth defects
  • Difficulties giving birth
  • Vision dysfunction
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Depression
  • Acne
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hair loss
  • Leg cramps

Higher dosages of these dangerous drugs are even more hazardous. Sometimes they are given in quite large dosages to people who have chosen to undergo a sex change operation, in order to stimulate their bodies to take on the characteristics of the opposite sex. Another scary application is when artificial hormones are given to young children who were born without identifiable sex organs, and were therefore assigned a gender chosen by the parents and the doctor. This is also used to stimulate the body in the direction of the chosen sex, or to correct a choice that was obviously the wrong gender when the child grows older. All the psychological implications of such applications aside, the potential physical dangers are immense.

Considering the potentially fatal diseases and severe side effects associated with HRT, it seems a foolish choice indeed, especially when much less dangerous and more effective means are available to deal with the unpleasant side of menopause.

Another factor involved with this whole issue is the fact that menopause is looked upon as an “illness” rather than just a natural phase of a woman’s life that can be managed in a much more natural way without taking drugs to eliminate or minimize the whole process. This attitude is largely the result of our society’s undue emphasis on youth and physical beauty, especially in women. Menopause is a normal part of the life-cycle that may be better off left mostly undisturbed. There is a reason for everything, and letting menopause run its course with minimal intervention may have benefits that we have not even begun to understand yet. It may be helpful to view menopause as the beginning of a new stage in life rather than the end of youth and sexuality.

What Other Alternatives Are Available for Managing Menopause?

To bring stability to your life during menopause, I recommend the use of an all natural, bioidentical progesterone cream. Choose one that is free of toxic chemicals and clearly lists the amount of progesterone per ounce. Bioidentical progesterone creams do not have the dangerous side effects that synthetic hormones do, and a product such as this is a safe, effective alternative to standard HRT. Natural progesterone creams can also be used to help with PMS symptoms, and men can use them as well to deal with fluctuations in their hormone levels. They are not, however, recommended for young boys, as these hormones may interfere with the normal maturation of sperm.

Every woman is different when it comes to the perfect dosage of these creams, so it may take a while to find what works best for you. However, do not be concerned because there are no serious side effects associated with natural progesterone creams. The most important factor when choosing a progesterone cream is to make sure that there are no artificial hormones in the formula. Use products that contain only natural progesterone cream.

Besides using a natural progesterone cream, the greatest steps you can take to protect your health and ease symptoms of menopause begin, or at least they should begin, long before the onset of menopause. A life long commitment to wellness that includes eating a diet centered on whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables, along with regular exercise is the most natural way to avoid heart disease and osteoporosis as you age. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking or dancing is particularly good for bone health and density.

By the year 2010 it is estimated that approximately 50 million American women will be in menopause. This can be handled in a natural, drug-free way that will be beneficial to the health of these women, or it can be a profit-driven opportunity for Big Pharma to dispense their drugs indiscriminately. Mainstream medicine has backed off from wholesale recommendation of HRT, but they still insist that short-term usage of these toxic synthetic hormones can be beneficial to most women. My hope is that women will wake up and spread the word that there is safer and more effective way to transition through menopause.

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