Hormone therapy may still offer important health benefits to postmenopausal women

de women with important health advantages before menopause," said Turgeon. "We need to remain open to the possibility that these same ovarian hormones can help women stay healthier after menopause as well."

Hormone therapy was once thought to help postmenopausal women keep their health risks closer to levels seen in younger women. But prescribing such therapy has largely been abandoned by physicians after the Women's Health Initiative clinical trials found in 2002 that women on combination estrogen and progestin therapy had a slightly higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots than women taking a placebo. However, the study also found that the hormone therapy offered some protection against fractures and colon cancer. "Estrogens are important to maintain normal brain function and may protect against neurodegeneration," said Wise, who has conducted numerous laboratory studies on the protective effect of estrogens on the brain during aging and after injury. "There are so many potential benefits of estrogens and progestins after menopause that therapy with these hormones should not be disregarded based on a single study. Our goal is to find the right formulation and circumstances that will enable us to retain health benefits, while eliminating the risks."

There are many different estrogens and progestins, and each may have different effects. For example, the human ovary produces several types of estrogen, including estrone and estradiol. The estrogen preparation used most commonly for hormone therapy comes from horses and contains these as well as several other forms not secreted by human ovaries.

To add to the complexity, tissues throughout the body respond differently to the exact same estrogen or progestin. For example, tamoxifen, an estrogen-like drug used to treat breast cancer, blocks the effects of estrogen in the breast. However, it has the opposite effect in bones and the uterus, where it actually mimics estrogens.

Contact: Carole Gan
University of California, Davis - Health System

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