For many years, older women with symptoms associated with menopause – a health condition that affects 65 million people in the U.S. – have gone to their doctors for relief. For the most part, physicians have prescribed synthetic hormone-replacement therapy. And over time, FDA-approved synthetic hormones, specifically Premarin, Provera and Prempro (a combination of the two), have become the norm. In fact in 2001, Premarin was the best-selling drug in the U.S., with $2 billion in annual sales for its manufacturer, Wyeth.Â
In 1994, the National Institutes of Health initiated a study of 16,000 women to determine the effectiveness of these drugs to alleviate symptoms, as well as to protect aging women from heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis and cancer. The study came to an abrupt halt on July 9, 2002, when it was shown – unequivocally – that the drugs were not safe and actually increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer. This led doctors to immediately take their patients off these drugs. Millions of women began experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, ultimately leading the American College of Obstetrics to develop new guidelines recommending that physicians prescribe the same drugs, but in lower doses for shorter periods of time. Amazingly, it acted without having scientifically proven the effectiveness of this “low dose” option, writes Drs. Erika Schwartz, Kent Holtorf and David Brownstein, founding members of the non-profit Bioidentical Hormone Initiative, in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
As the editorial points out, Premarin and Provera continue to dominate the market – and the manufacturers do little, if nothing, to educate doctors about the benefits of bioidenticals in treating symptoms. Yet, the efficacy and safety of natural progesterone, which is identical to the progesterone molecule produced by our own bodies, is backed by 25 years of scientific research and hundreds of studies done in the U.S. and in Europe. In fact, it has been proven that bioidentical hormones, estradiol and micronized progesterone are at least as effective as synthetics – and they are safer. Despite this, the distinction between natural progesterone and synthetics is widely misunderstood. And the debate about hormone replacement therapy continues to generate confusion and ignorance. According to Drs. Schwartz, Holtorf and Brownstein, “The medical establishment must stop kowtowing to drug companies and start serving women’s best interests-and that involves widely prescribing bioidentical hormones. This will lead to healthier, happier women, and in the long run, help reduce America’s skyrocketing healthcare costs.” Fortunately, millions of women are beginning to embrace bioidenticals, leaving, writes the doctors, “their conventional physicians looking stubborn and foolish.”