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5 Dangers of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder

Using hormones to combat age-related hormonal shifts sounds a bit like using a sledgehammer to drive a nail into a piece of wood. Yes, the nail will go through, but at what cost? Hormones control practically every function, mechanism, and metabolic reaction in our body. Science has shown just how powerful hormones are for affecting every aspect of health, including cardiovascular, mood, cognitive function, and even digestion.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was first developed to help women ease symptoms of menopause. This therapeutic approach involves using estrogen, usually synthetic, to help alleviate symptoms of this naturally-occurring aging process. During menopause, the body naturally transitions away from reproduction, usually causing uncomfortable side effects such as hot flashes, mood imbalance, and concentration issues.

Hormone Replacement Therapy for Women

To address common symptoms associated with menopause, pharmaceutical industries came to create HRT. This therapeutic approach is used to combat the reduced estrogen and progesterone hormone levels within the body. HRT includes both of these hormones in synthetic form, causing some concern over how these unnatural versions affect the body. Bombarding the body with hormones does more than just alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, but it also affects many aspects of bodily health.

Is HRT Safe?

The Women’s Health Initiative began in 1991 as a study to evaluate causes of disease, illness, and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women. Part of the study included determining the safety of hormone replacement therapy. In 2001, after 5 years of research on HRT using estrogen plus progestin, the study on HRT was terminated because the participants experienced serious health risks far in excess of any benefits received. [1] This is according to the government-sponsored study. When government researchers say a pharmaceutical treatment isn’t safe, that may be a clear indication that the therapy may not be an ideal choice.

Danger 1: Blood Clots

Reports show that women who use HRT therapy experience blood clots at a higher rate than those who don’t. This isn’t too surprising as researchers have long discovered how artificially altering hormone levels increases the thickness of blood, an action that tends to increase the clotting mechanism. [2] Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism are the most serious dangers and can result in death.

Danger 2: Breast Cancer

The Women’s Health Initiative study and others have demonstrated a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk. After all, this treatment increases reproductive hormones in women whose bodies are transitioning away from this activity. Further research has found that certain demographic groups (Caucasian, Asian and Hispanic) are at higher risk for breast cancer after using HRT. [3] Researchers continue to look into the reasons for this connection and to find out who might not be as susceptible. Even so, none deny the increased risk.

Danger 3: Ovarian Cancer

Studies have discovered that HRT influences ovarian cancer growth once the cancer has already developed. [4] It appears estrogen and progestin influence ovarian cancer tumor growth, an undesirable effect of the therapy. Although HRT has not necessarily been shown to cause cancer, the risk does exist.

Danger 4: Stroke

Stroke has been the main concern for women taking HRT, according to a study by the Women’s Health Initiative. Numerous trials have also supported the connection between hormone replacement therapy and stroke. In fact, one recent review noted that HRT appeared to play an important role in the occurrence of stroke. [5]

Danger 5: Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality amongst women, despite its ability to be prevented. Prior to the Women’s Health Initiative, one presumed benefit of hormone replacement therapy was that it would reduce the incidence of death as a result of cardiovascular disease. The WHI study, however, showed the exact opposite. Women using HRT therapy remain at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than women who do not use the therapy. [6]

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References (6)
  1. Heiss G1, Wallace R, Anderson GL, Aragaki A, Beresford SA, Brzyski R, Chlebowski RT, Gass M, LaCroix A, Manson JE, Prentice RL, Rossouw J, Stefanick ML; WHI Investigators. Health risks and benefits 3 years after stopping randomized treatment with estrogen and progestin. JAMA. 2008 Mar 5;299(9):1036-45. doi: 10.1001/jama.299.9.1036.
  2. Ruszkowska B1, Gadomska G, Bielis L, Gruszka M, Gralczyk B, Ro D, Odrow-Sypniewska G. Risk of venous thromboembolic disease in postmenopausal women taking oral or transdermal hormone replacement therapy. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2011 Jan;12(1):12-7. doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1000106.
  3. Hou N1, Hong S, Wang W, Olopade OI, Dignam JJ, Huo D. Hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer: heterogeneous risks by race, weight, and breast density. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Sep 18;105(18):1365-72. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt207.
  4. Hein A1, Thiel FC, Bayer CM, Fasching PA, Hberle L, Lux MP, Renner SP, Jud SM, Schrauder MG, Mller A, Wachter D, Strehl J, Hartmann A, Beckmann MW, Rauh C. Hormone replacement therapy and prognosis in ovarian cancer patients. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2013 Jan;22(1):52-8. doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0b013e328355ec22.
  5. Yang D1, Li J, Yuan Z, Liu X. Effect of hormone replacement therapy on cardiovascular outcomes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2013 May 8;8(5):e62329. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062329.
  6. Harman SM. Menopausal hormone treatment cardiovascular disease: another look at an unresolved conundrum. Fertil Steril. 2014 Apr;101(4):887-97. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.02.042.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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