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Government Researchers Halt Study of Hormone Replacement Therapy, Taken By Millions of Older Women: A Roundtable Discussion

StoryJuly 12, 2002
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Government researchers have dealt a powerful blow to drug companies, who have for decades forcefully promoted hormone replacement therapy,

Hormone replacement therapy is taken by millions of menopausal women in the US. But scientists from the federally funded Women’s Health Initiative this week reported that a popular estrogen/progestin pill produced by pharmaceutical mega-company Wyeth-Ayerst significantly increases risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, and blood clots in the lungs.

An estimated six million women in the U.S. are currently taking Prempro after being assured that it relieved menopause symptoms, and to prevent bone loss.

This announcement comes only two weeks after results from another study showed that estrogen alone does not help protect women heart patients from further heart disease. That study was funded by the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth itself.

The marketing of estrogen therapy began in 1966 when a prominent New York gynecologist, Dr. Robert Wilson, published a book called "Feminine Forever." Wilson’s best-selling book said that menopause was an illness that could be treated with estrogen, and that the feminine hormone could keep women young, healthy and attractive.Wilson’s book begins with an anecdote from a man who asked Wilson to put his wife on estrogen. The man said, "She’s driving me nuts. She won’t fix meals . . . She picks on me all the time . . ." He pulled a gun from his pocket, and said, "If you don’t cure her, I’ll kill her." Dr. Wilson reflected, "I have often been haunted by the thought that except for the tiny stream of estrogen . . . this woman might have died a violent death at the hands of her own husband."

Dr. Wilson died in 1981, but his son, Ronald Wilson, joins us today on the phone. He has a very different take on the hormone industry. In fact, he has some explosive news about the funding of his father’s book and his own family history.

Guests:

  • Ron Wilson, son of Dr. Robert Wilson, author of "Feminine Forever", the book that depicted menopause as an illness that could be treated with estrogen.
  • Barbara Seaman, longtime women’s health activist. She is the author of many books on the women’s health industry including "The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill" (one of the first indictments of the birth control pill, published in 1969) and "Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones." She is working on a book about estrogen with the working title "The Greatest Experiment Ever performed on Women," forthcoming from Hyperion. She is also the co-founder of the National Women’s Health Network, which looks at women’s health issues from a feminist perspective free from corporate influence.
  • Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MPH, MD, member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a physician at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
  • Sylvia Smoller, one of the lead investigators in the Women’s Health Initiative study. She is a Ph D in the Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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