Many of us to look to the ‘old country’ for guidance on the latest developments in health and wellbeing. So, who has been watching the brouhaha that has erupted in the UK as Women of menopausal age are being lulled by medical professionals into a false sense of security which could be disastrous for their health?
Substantial media coverage of the announcement of new guidelines by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is encouraging women to believe that Hormone Replacement Therapy is a perfectly healthy choice for those handling their menopausal years.
Many of these articles and television interviews are trying to indicate that the American study of 2002, which established a link between HRT and breast cancer, was flawed. Furthermore, little is acknowledged of the further studies and greater evidence in the intervening period to prove that HRT is as lethal as ever.
Just for clarity let’s just re-evaluate the facts. Between the 1960s and 2002 women of any age displaying menopausal symptoms were prescribed HRT and they adored it – why wouldn’t they? The hot flushes reduced or vanished and they were told that what it wouldn’t do for the skin, bones and general well being wasn’t worth knowing.
Women loved it, the doctors loved them loving it and Big Pharma loved the effect it had on its bank balance. However, a long-term trial in America highlighted a variety of side effects, which wiped the smiles off everyone’s faces.
The National Institutes of Health in America stopped a large scale trial and issued a report in 2002 which showed an alarming risk of invasive breast cancer in the women participating in the study.
However, it was not only breast cancer that increased, but also a 29% increase in heart attacks, a 41% increase in strokes and a year later it was announced that there was twice the risk of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. On March 2nd 2004 the NIH announced that it had also stopped an Oestrogen only study in the interest of safety.
Alarm bells started ringing about hormone therapy in general when the World Health Organisation announced in 2005 that they had reclassified the contraceptive Pill from “possibly carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans” putting it in the same category as tobacco and asbestos.
A little closer to home Oxford University’s Professor Dame Valerie Beral launched The Million Women Study in 1997 and since then one in four women over the age of 50 in the UK have participated in the study in order to better understand the risks of HRT from a European perspective.
A collaborative project between Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service, with additional funding from the Medical Research Council and the Health and Safety Executive, has looked at many questions affecting women’s health in this age group, not only HRT.
But, most importantly, by confirming the relationship between HRT and the risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, the Million Women Study has had a dramatic effect on HRT prescription patterns and prescription guidelines, leading to a reduction in breast cancer rates.
Since the publication of the Women’s Health Initiative trial and the Million Women Study, sales of HRT have halved in the US, UK and Europe. Consistent with the drop in HRT use, the incidence of breast cancer has also markedly decreased in women over the age of 50 in the US, UK and Europe.
“In the UK, HRT use has been falling since the start of the Millennium,” said Hazel Nunn, Head of Health information at Cancer Research.
“Studies suggest that in 2005 there were 1,400 fewer cases of breast cancer in the UK among women aged 50-59 than would have been if there had been no drop in HRT use.”
And so we get to the crux of the matter: the sale of HRT has halved and Big Pharma doesn’t like it. The current PR campaign to promote the use of hormone replacement therapy has been placed by top PR company Weber Shandwick and is funded by the pharmaceutical company Mylan. By misrepresenting small studies and indeed running a small study of their own it would appear that they are busy manipulating the information provided to women in a vulnerable state.
The PR campaign is being run to coincide with the announcement of the new NICE guidelines and scientists such as Prof Valerie Beral fear that women will be misled into thinking the drugs are completely safe.
Our world is very different from that of our parents and grandparents; we live at a different pace and rhythm and, for some women, dealing with menopause can be completely horrendous, whilst others don’t understand the fuss.
Since 2002 GPs had their hands tied with little to offer the menopausal woman who was left floundering around trying to find an effective, yet safe solution to enable them navigate this phase of their lives. The gynaecological fraternity want to provide better help to menopausal women and therefore welcome the relaxing of the guidelines by NICE but as the scientists are pointing out – at what cost?
In 2004, at the age of 42, early on-set menopause hit me like a steam train. I couldn’t get around the supermarket without wriggling out of most of my clothes at the fish counter only to be freezing to death and piling them back on by the meat counter.
I had a girl friend in her 50s, who had just given up HRT at the request of her daughter spooked by the bad news and she too was struggling with the symptoms. She had gone from feeling great to painful joints as she got out of bed, her hands and feet hurt all the time, to say nothing of hot flushes destroying her sleep pattern. We commiserated together.
I was a long time devotee of homeopathy and natural remedies and was lucky enough to discover a fantastic Homeopath and, with a combination of homeopathic remedies and Chinese Herbs, I managed to steer a path into calmer waters whilst my friend decided to go back on HRT and soon felt the benefit of all those lovely synthetic hormones coursing through her body.
She has continued to take HRT for the intervening period and then one morning, in January of this year, she got out of bed and found the floor came up to meet her; she’d had a stroke. The diagnosis showed the stroke was HRT induced and, as part of her recovery programme, she has stopped taking it.
As a result, in her mid sixties not only is she dealing with the fallout from the stroke, which was fortunately quite mild, but also she is suffering night sweats, painful joints, mood swings and depression all over again.
That is something else they don’t tell you – HRT only puts off the evil day. The symptoms may be marginally less after a period of 5 years on HRT but your body still has to traverse the period of reduced oestrogen, with all the inevitable side effects. My friend is now taking homeopathic remedies and Chinese herbs and couldn’t believe that within ten days she felt a very real difference.
Living through peri-menopause, menopause, even post menopause, can be life sapping, but living with a menopausal woman is not a lot of fun either. So we owe it to ourselves, and our families, to do something about it. It isn’t only the GP fluttering an HRT prescription that can help, there are a myriad of complementary remedies to aide and assist but the fact is we are not experts in this field and nor are the people in the health food shop.
You wouldn’t prescribe yourself antibiotics so why try to prescribe yourself a herbal remedy or flower essence. Invest in your future and that of your family; find a homeopath, medical herbalist, or holistic therapist and get some professional help and advice.
These practices have been around for centuries and whilst they might not provide an instant cure-all there are little or no side effects, so don’t be deterred by cynics and don’t suffer in silence - get help and here are some links to get you started.