Menopause Guide – What Hormone Replacement Therapy Can Do for You

Most of the changes that happen to your body when your hormone production slows down can be prevented, and many others can be reversed.

Exciting scientific advances in the last fifty years have given rise to whole new groups of hormonal and nonhormonal medications for use during and after menopause. These are not remedies prescribed over the telephone or obtained over the counter, but ones that must be discussed with and carefully prescribed by your own physician and taken under your doctor’s supervision.

There is nothing new about the theory of “rejuvenation” therapy. Ancient Egyptians introduced organotherapy, or glandular therapy, and ate the penis of the ass for this purpose. Ancient Greeks and Romans changed the prescription to asses’ testicles. Early scientists of the 1800s added other ideas to that kind of treatment. More than one hundred years ago, in 1888, a seventy-two-year-old famous French physiologist, Brown-Sequard, reported that he had rejuvenated him­self by taking injections of “testicular juice.” He wrote that he achieved greater body vigor, improved bladder and intestinal func­tion, and that his wife used the testicular extract to combat feminine discomforts.

By the close of the nineteenth century, ovarian therapy started, with ovarian juice, powdered ovaries, and powdered ovarian tablets pre­scribed for surgical menopause, dysmenorrhea, and obesity. In 1926, A. S. Parkes and C. W. Bellerby, two scientists in Great Britain, extracted female hormone from an ovary for the first time. They named it estrin. A few years later, a German chemist, A. Butenandt, isolated and synthesized a pure form of estrogen and progesterone. He won the Nobel Prize for his work. Now that these hormones were available, physicians prescribed them for a wide range of women’s symptoms.

The wholesale prescription of this treatment became so popular that by the 1960s many books and articles ascribed all sorts of value to it, but did not describe any of the risks. The use of these powerful hormones escalated. Physicians and women alike were shocked when, in December 1975, scientific papers were released showing a causal relationship between hormone therapy and cancer of the uterus.

Women became afraid to use these medications. Fear, coupled with confusion and combined with a lack of comprehensive information, reigned. The only redeeming feature of this frightening dilemma was that scientists, physicians, and paramedical specialists finally began to conduct intensive research on the phenomenon of menopause. As a result, today physicians are able to reassure women because they have a fuller understanding of how menopause works. They now know much more about how the hormones function, how they can safely be prescribed, and what other forms of observation and treatment are necessary for their female patients.

While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for postmenopausal women continues to be somewhat controversial, it is growing in popu­larity. Earlier, we described how the ovary starts to lose certain hor­mones and what happens to women as a result. Remember, too, that this hormone deficiency is more severe in some women than in others. The purpose of HRT is to make up for that deficiency. Not all women can take HRT, and not all women need to. For women who can, and who choose to, HRT holds the promise of preventing or reversing many of the negative effects on the body caused by the lack of estrogen.