For nearly twenty years, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) has caused a dark cloud to hang over the use of hormone therapy for the relief of menopause and prevention of disease. In the last several years, researchers have carefully analyzed what went wrong with the WHI, which was prematurely halted in 2002, and designed new studies to confirm or refute the horrific findings.
The WHI has become synonymous with discussion of hormone therapy, as it was the first and largest long-term study that set out to determine the effects of hormone therapy on menopausal women. However, one branch of the study was abruptly halted, when many subjects experienced adverse health conditions when supplementing combined estrogen-progestin therapies.
As time has marched on, recent studies have found hormone therapy to be a safe and effective treatment for the relief of menopause. And, in many cases, hormone therapy has also reduced markers of disease in subjects; however no one has found significant statistical evidence to support this as an irrefutable claim – until now.
The journal, Neurology, published the results of a study that found women on hormone therapy actually have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Peter Zandi of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and his team followed 1,768 women ages 65 and older for 11 years. A total of 1,105 women had used hormone therapy, which consisted of estrogen alone or estrogen in combination with progestin. During the study, 176 women developed Alzheimer’s disease. Of those, 87 were from the group who had taken hormone therapy, while 89 were from the group of 663 that did not use hormone therapy.
The study found that women who began hormone therapy within five years of menopause had a 30 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease than those who had not used hormone therapy.
The risk was unchanged among women who had begun hormone therapy treatment more than five years following menopause – with the exception of women who began combined estrogen and progestin treatment after the age of 65 – these women experienced an increased risk of dementia.
Constance Crisp, M.D., Medical Director of BodyLogicMD of Little Rock and a specialist in bioidentical hormone therapy offered valuable insight to help women make a more informed decision when considering hormone therapy, in light of these results, “We already know from the WHI that the combined therapy of estrogen and progestin increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. More research needs to be done combining natural progesterone with estradiol. The synthetic forms of progesterone (progestins) do not have the protective benefits observed with natural progesterone. If natural progesterone had been used, the results might be quite different, even if started later in life. I can’t offer specific numbers or any statistical evidence, but what I can say from my years of clinical experience and observation is that many of my female patients beyond the age of 65, have found relief safely with bioidentical hormone therapy.”
Just last month, KEEPS (Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study), which also tested the safety and efficacy of hormone therapy on women in early menopause, released the preliminary results of their study. They found that not only was hormone therapy effective in treating symptoms of menopause, but several markers of disease were reduced as well. And, this study used micronized (bioidentical) progesterone in combination with either transdermal (bioidentical) estrogen or oral (synthetic) estrogen.
The USPSTF issued a recommendation, out earlier this month, stating that hormone therapy should not be used for the prevention of disease and only for the shortest period of time possible. However, evidence is rapidly surfacing that there are alternatives available – bioidentical hormone therapies – that may do more than just relieve symptoms of menopause, safely and effectively.