Cover of journal MENOPAUSEAs we have often noted here, one of the key reasons the marketing of hormone therapy for menopausal women has been so successful is the misguided belief that menopause is an estrogen-deficiency disease. Among other purported disadvantages of the decline in estrogen that accompanies normal aging was the belief that this decline caused muscle loss and other declines in physical functioning. (Muscle cells have receptors for estrogen, and recent research has linked higher blood levels of the hormone to greater muscle strength in elderly women.)

But the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) is still providing new information about the lack of benefits of HT. (For those who are new around here, the WHI is a large US clinical trial begun in 1991, in which thousands of postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to take either HT or placebo pills. The study was abruptly ended ahead of schedule in 2002, when researchers discovered that the women taking the hormones had higher risks of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and blood clots – the very conditions the drugs were assumed to prevent – than placebo users.) In a new study based on a subgroup of 2400 women to be published in a forthcoming issue of Menopause (February 2010), both the women using HT and the placebo groups showed similar dips in muscle strength and walking speed over six years. In other words, women get older and show physical indications of aging with or without hormone therapy.

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