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SCIENCE REPORT - August 9, 2001: Female Hormones and Heart Disease - 2001-08-08

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

The American Heart Association has changed its advice about older women and female hormones. The organization now says healthy order women should not take the hormones to prevent heart disease. And it says women with heart disease also should not take the hormones. The association says there is growing evidence that the hormones may not help and might even cause harm.

Many older women take estrogen and progesterone to replace the hormones that their bodies no longer produce. This is called hormone replacement therapy. The hormones can ease the physical changes taking place in the body. They strengthen the bones and protect against the disease osteoporosis. They also ease feelings of extreme heat that older women sometimes experience.

The hormones also were thought to prevent heart disease in women. The American Heart Association had advised that all women with heart disease should consider taking estrogen.

Now, however, the Heart Association says women should not take the hormones to prevent heart attacks and strokes. New research is showing that the hormones might increase the chances that women with heart disease will suffer these problems.

The Heart Association announced its new decision in its publication, “Circulation.” The decision was based on a four-year study of women with heart disease. In the first year, women taking the hormones had fifty-two percent more heart-related illnesses than those taking an inactive substance. The researchers also found a greater number of women in the hormone group suffered blood clots and gall bladder disease.

A similar result was seen in a fifteen-year study that involves more than twenty-seven-thousand women. After four years, the researchers found a small increase in the number of heart attacks and strokes among healthy women taking hormones.

About twenty-million women in the United States take hormone replacement therapy. There has been much debate about whether older women should take the hormones. Research also has shown that taking the hormones for more than five years can increase some women’s chances of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.