Wrong remedy

Another stake has been driven into hopes that long-term hormonal treatment might provide health benefits to post-menopausal women. The National Institutes of Health halted a trial of oestrogen therapy in thousands of American women this week because it increased the risk of stroke and failed to protect against heart disease, the main potential health benefit. The findings give further reason to limit hormone therapy.

The latest findings contribute to the woes that have dogged hormone therapy for the past two years. Although the treatment was once touted as an anti-ageing elixir to ward off chronic illness and make women feel more energetic, mentally sharper and more sexually responsive, a series of studies have questioned its presumed benefits and highlighted the risks. In July 2002, federal health officials halted a large-scale trial of a combined oestrogen-progestin pill.

Now a part of the study that used oestrogen alone for women who had hysterectomies has also been halted. This was a closer call — the dangers were fewer. But the oestrogen pills clearly increased the risk of stroke and may also have increased the risk of dementia, undercutting the belief that the pills are good for mental alertness.

The most encouraging finding was that oestrogen alone, unlike the combination pills, did not increase the risk of breast cancer. — The New York Times