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HEALTH REPORT - May 8, 2002: Hormone Replacement Questioned - 2002-05-07

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

An international team of health experts says there is no scientific evidence that hormone replacement can treat serious conditions suffered by older women. Women’s bodies stop producing the hormone estrogen at about the age of fifty. Women can no longer become pregnant. This period of life is called menopause.

Until now, medical experts believed that taking the hormone estrogen could protect older women from health problems. These include heart disease, mental depression, Alzheimer’s disease and broken bones caused by osteoporosis. However, hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer if used for many years.

The new report was paid for by the United States National Institutes of Health and the private Giovanni Loren Zini Medical Science Foundation in Italy.

The full report will be published in June. But the part concerning hormone replacement and other treatments was released at a recent scientific meeting at the N-I-H. The report examined the results of many women’s health studies. Twenty-eight doctors and scientists wrote the report. They are from the United States, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Australia.

The group’s goal was to present all the information in one report for doctors around the world. The group examined only studies that used the scientific method called a randomized control trial. In such studies, people are given either the treatment being tested or an inactive substance called a placebo. The results show if the treatment was more effective than the placebo.

The report said that hormone replacement is useful to ease the hot feelings that some women experience during menopause. But it said scientific evidence does not support its use for other problems.

For example, three recent studies show that taking hormones increases instead of reduces the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Studies have shown that taking hormones does not help women with early Alzheimer’s disease or mental depression.

The report said taking hormones can slow bone loss. But the loss continues after women stop taking the hormones. And it said that no large studies have been done to see if taking hormones reduces the number of broken bones suffered by older women.

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