The Study That Made Estrogen Evil
The surgeon who delivered my daughter performed the operation, and he prescribed that I take an estrogen pill, called Premarin, practically the minute I came out of my anesthetic stupor. I didn’t ask why. I just took it. Every single day, for 18 years, until 2009. But in 2002, a study came out from the Women’s Health Initiative that cast estrogen therapy as a villain.
It reported that estrogen therapy increases a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, having a stroke or heart attack, and developing blood clots. That scared me, so of course I asked my doctor what to do.
And he assured me, year in and year out, that I should continue the estrogen, that it would not cause any of the issues described in the WHI study. But in January 2009, when I was 62, I decided to stop taking my estrogen pills, because the WHI study was consistently in the news over the years.
I had one or two hot flashes, post estrogen, but they were the outward symptoms. The inside symptoms didn’t start rearing their ugly heads until around 2012. My LDL (bad) cholesterol levels crept up every year (they had always been perfect). My bones lost more density every year. My skin sagged over night.
By this time, my wonderful gynecologist and internist both had died, and when I asked my new much-younger internist what the heck was going on, she told me I should lose weight, eat more calcium, and exercise. She also sent me to a cardiologist and an endocrinologist to deal with my “osteopenia” and high LDL levels. These two doctors had the answers in a snap: Statin drugs to lower the LDL and bisphosphonates to halt the bone loss. Many boomer women I knew were on these drugs, so I obediently took them.
I did not like what I read on the internet, however, about statins and phosphonates. Statins may improve your cholesterol numbers but they increase your risk of developing dementia and diabetes (great!) and bisphosphonates could cause your jaw to lock and further disintegration of your bones (great!)
My AHA Moment
Fortunately, I was interviewing some really smart doctors for FabOverFifty by this time, and started working with a pharmaceutical company that produces an estrogen pill to relieve vaginal atrophy. Putting 2+2 together, I discovered that my decision to stop taking estrogen was a mistake. A BIG, BIG MISTAKE. The WHI even admitted it made a big, big mistake, because the participants in its study were considerably older than typical women going through menopause, namely an average age of 63, with 20 percent of them starting estrogen between 70 and 79! Obviously, they were many years postmenopausal since the average age at menopause is 51 in the United States. And, it is likely that many of the older women entering the study had already developed some degree of damage to their blood vessels. The study did find that the participants on estrogen only had a decrease in diagnoses of breast cancer.