Two medical studies released Wednesday provided more evidence that giving female hormones to older women does little to improve their health and may in fact harm it. The studies found that the treatments do not protect women from heart disease, as doctors once believed, and one of the studies found that giving hormones to women actually increases their risk of heart attack. Both studies appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, which published a separate piece of research earlier this year suggesting the health risks of estrogen and progestin treatments for older women outweigh the benefits.
In one of the new studies, a research team led by JoAnn Manson of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that women taking estrogen and progestin increase their risk of a heart attack by 81% in the first year. The study also showed that while hormone supplements may reduce the risk of hip fracture and colorectal cancer, they increase the likelihood of stroke by 41%, the longer-term risk of a heart attack by 29%, and the chance of breast cancer by 26%. "Overall, the risk of treatment outweighed the benefits during 5.6 years of treatment," the researchers concluded in their study, which was ended early because of the health risks linked with hormone replacement therapy.
The second study, led by Howard Hodis of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, found that the arteries of 150 women taking hormone supplements clogged just as rapidly as did 76 getting a placebo. For years, conventional medical wisdom asserted that replacing the estrogen lost after menopause protected against heart disease because the treatment often lowered "bad" cholesterol levels and increased the amount of "good" cholesterol.