Six thousand new women reach 50 every day. And when they do, most will ponder the question, "Is estrogen safe for me to take?" Ten years ago, estrogen and progesterone were commonly given to menopausal women; nearly half of them took it. But in 2012, ten years after the publication of two Women's Health Initiative (WHI) studies on the risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women, millions of women stopped their hormones and suffered with menopausal symptoms because they feared the risks. The two WHI studies scared the Hell out of women and many of their doctors (see below). But over the past 10 years, newer studies have disproven many of the original findings. But harm was done for women; the fear prevented many women from taking estrogen that could have prevented terrible symptom. I want to help you make sense of these important studies.
First, let's look at what the studies were supposed to do.
At that time, estrogen plus progestin (notice, not progesterone which is the natural hormone, but progestin, a synthetic substance that the woman's body responds to similarly to how it responds to progesterone) were being recommended for all women in menopause to lower the risk of heart disease as well as treat symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 (mean age 63) were given different formulations of the most common estrogen and progestin medications in use at the time.
Giving hormones to older women, they thought, would lower their risk of heart disease and so the study didn't take into account how old the women were, how long it had been since they started going through menopause, or if they were at risk for any other diseases. Hormone Therapy (HT) was considered both good and safe.
There were two hormone studies that were started about the same time. The first involved giving some 16,000 women either estrogen and progestin (Prempro - the most commonly used hormone of this type at the time) or placebo. That study was stopped 3 years early because the risks were greater than the benefits.