The Washington Post

Hormone Pills Could Have Health Benefits

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ATLANTA, June 20 — Five years after a landmark study scared millions of women off hormones for menopause symptoms, new research suggests the pills may offer some heart benefits for certain women who start taking them in their 50s.

Younger women who took estrogen had less hardening of the arteries than those who took placebos, researcher­s report in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

It is the latest study in recent months to suggest that younger women who take hormones at the start of menopause seem to gain some health benefits beyond relief from hot flashes. That is in sharp contrast to women who take hormones in their 60s and 70s, when it raises several health risks.

The new findings did not change most experts’ advice: Use hormones only as needed to treat hot flashes, sleeplessn­ess and other symptoms at the start of menopause. And use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time — no longer than four or five years.

The research found that women who started taking estrogen pills in their 50s were 30 to 40 percent less likely to have measurable levels of blockage-causing calcium in their coronary arteries.

“It seems to be slowing the rate of plaque buildup,” said lead author JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The research is based on the Women’s Health Initiative, a large federal study started in 1991.

A major phase of the study was suspended in 2002 after it found higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer and other problems in women who took a popular combinatio­n hormone pill.

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