As appeared in The Natural Healer, Spring 2003
Hormone replacement therapy has been questioned as to its health benefits, but more importantly its health risks. Since the July 9, 2002 announcement of the findings concerning participants in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) using combination (estrogen plus progestin) hormone replacement therapy, women have been clamouring to get off HRT and on to something safer. These safer alternatives are something that I and other naturopathic doctors have been promoting for a long time.
It has long been known that the more a woman is exposed to estrogen in her lifetime, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. Women have also been exposed to Premarin®, which is a preparation of conjugated estrogens (containing approximately 50% estrone and 50% equilin). Estrone is naturally occurring in humans, however, equilin is obtained from a pregnant mare’s urine. Unfortunately most of the research on estrogen has been done on Premarin®. Although Premarin® is a combination of naturally occurring estrogens, this product would be best utilized if you were genetically modified to possess the DNA of a horse.
All estrogens are not the same, simply as a matter of patent protection. Things occurring naturally in our world are patented by God, therefore they are based upon God’s generosity, which is public domain. We can enjoy the use of them free of charge. In the early 1900’s most pharmaceutical companies were content to patent biochemical processes that extracted or synthetically produced the naturally occurring equivalent product. However, this did not give complete monopoly over the product, as a different process to extract or synthesize could easily be made. Monopoly is important, because if you control a monopoly you have no direct competition and profits skyrocket. This has been the agenda of the largest drug companies.
Consider the molecule of estrogen. When you get a prescription from your medical doctor for estrogen, or HRT, you are typically told if this one doesn’t work or you experience side effects, you can try another estrogen. However, you are not getting true estrogen. You are getting a molecule of estrogen plus a side molecule attached to it so it does not naturally occur in nature and can therefore be patented, or you are getting it from a pregnant horse.
We are bombarded by estrogen in other forms which mimic estrogen such as xenoestrogens, which are found in plastics, pesticides, herbicides, food exposed to pesticides and our drinking water. This contributes to estrogen overload and the side effects associated with it. Thus we are being polluted by the environment with estrogen mimickers and by the pharmaceutical drug companies with estrogen modified drugs.
An excellent example of good marketing occurred in the Oct. 27, 2002 issue of the New York Times. It stated that the National Institutes of Health had decided, in compliance with its mandate, to protect the public by changing the name of “hormone replacement therapy” to “menopausal replacement therapy”. Just who is looking out for the public’s best interests? According to the prestigious medical journal, Lancet on Nov. 2, 2002, pharmaceutical companies represent such a large portion of medical studies that results could inappropriately impact healthcare policies. Kava Kava was taken off the market, yet obvious cancer causing agents such as combined HRT remained on the market and its name was changed. (See my previous article CANCER: What you may Not Have Been Told in the Summer 2002 issue for stats.)
Why do women need HRT or MHT (Menopausal Hormonal Therapy) as we are now told to call it? When women reach a certain age their menstruation stops, and if they live in industrialized nations they have a higher likelihood of developing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, low libido, migraines, or vaginal dryness. They also have an increased likelihood of heart disease and osteoporosis. To treat these symptoms the pharmaceutical companies have instructed medical doctors to prescribe HRT/MHT.
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) found that it was too risky to continue using combination (estrogen plus progestin) hormone replacement therapy. After 5.2 years the researchers found that the combination HRT group experienced more strokes, heart attacks, blood clots and an increased risk of invasive breast cancer.
It’s important to realize that in order to stop a large-scale drug trial such as this, medical professionals risk putting their job on the line, as demonstrated by Toronto’s own Dr. Nancy Olivieri. Dr. Olivieri had the fortitude to stand up to pharmaceutical company Apotex, and risk prosecution by breaking the confidentiality part of her contract for the sake of putting the health of her patients above the pharmaceutical interests.
In the December 2002 issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weiss and her colleagues investigated the risk of breast cancer in women treated with HRT that consisted of estrogen and progesterone for more than 5 years. They found that women treated with HRT were 54% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who never used HRT treatment.
Natural progesterone, which is nonpatented, is very safe. In 1981 L. D. Cowan and colleagues at John Hopkins published their results which showed that the breast cancer incidence was 5.4 times greater in women with low progesterone than in women who had good progesterone levels. In a 20-year study published in 1996 in the British Journal of Cancer, Dr. P.E. Mohr and colleagues reported that women with higher progesterone levels at the time of their breast cancer surgery had a significantly better survival rate at 18 years, than those with a lower serum level of progesterone.
However, don’t expect a prescription for natural progesterone or other natural hormones from your medical doctor, because, as Dr. David Derry found out after an expensive trial with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, natural extracts of hormones will not be tolerated as prescriptions. Dr. Derry’s license was revoked for such a prescription and he had to appeal to the BC Supreme Court on June 24 and 25th, 2002 to get his license reinstated. As of December 18, 2002, Dr. Derry had his license, but was still not allowed to practice because of prescribing a natural hormone. He must, once again, appeal his case.
I applaud the efforts of the medical professionals who placed the best interests of their patients over the pharmaceutical drug companies and their vested interest collaborators. As a naturopathic doctor, I typically prescribe botanical medicines (herbs) that are public domain because God owns the patent, not the pharmaceutical industry, even though at one time botanical medicines were part of their pharmacopoeia. Historically, over thousands of years, herbs such as angelica, liquorice, chaste tree, black cohosh and ginkgo have been used to treat symptoms of this otherwise transformative time in a woman’s life called menopause.