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Hormone Therapy May Benefit Some Women's Hearts

Hormone Replacement for Younger Women continued...

Fearing for the safety of the women in their study, the Danish researchers advised them to stop taking their hormones. But they continued to chart the women’s health for nearly six more years.

In contrast to what happened in the WHI, the Danish women who took HRT were less likely to die over the course of the study or be hospitalized because of a heart attack or heart failure.  

There were no meaningful differences in strokes, dangerous blood clots, or cancers between the two groups.

“I think this is a breakthrough in the sense that this is what most doctors in the field have believed is the truth,” says researcher Louise Schierbeck, MD, an endocrinologist at Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark.

“When the results from the WHI came, in 2002, everything was turned upside down,” says Schierbeck, referring to the swift impact of that study, which caused millions of women to stop taking their hormones.

But Schierbeck and others think the results of the WHI have unfairly applied to younger women.

“The main problem with the WHI was that the women were so much older. They were, on average 63 years old when they were included in that study,” she says.

“It doesn’t make sense to treat menopausal symptoms when you are more than 10 years away from menopause. By that time, your entire biology has changed. It’s completely unnatural.”

Last week, U.S. researchers announced preliminary results from the smaller Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study, showing that younger women could get relief from some of the worst symptoms of menopause with little short-term risk. That study has only followed women for about four years, so it couldn’t shed light on what might happen to cancer risks or dementia as the women got older.

Findings Come With Caveats

While the new study seems to bolster the timing hypothesis, experts caution that it has some important limitations.

  • The original intent of the trial was to see if HRT could help with bone health. Questions about cancers, strokes, heart disease risks, and deaths were asked after all the data for the study had already been gathered. That can sometimes skew research results.
  • Women and their doctors knew whether or not they were taking hormones. That can bias the results.
  • With just over 1,000 women, the study was relatively small. In contrast, the WHI trials of HRT included more than 27,000 women.
  • The study was partly funded by drug companies that make HRT and thus have a financial interest in the outcome of the study.

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