Hormones in the News — HGH and Estrogen

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Human Growth Hormone abuse in Major League Baseball and a report that the WHI could have resulted in 50,000 deaths.

This week hormones treatments and hormone replacements have been in the news. We are expecting the barrage of news items to continue over the next several weeks. Some of the news is wonderful and reaffirming, and some of it is tragic and scary.

The wonderful news this week is a story in Time about a research study conducted at Yale University that very strongly condemns the reaction that the media and medical professions had to the WHI study conducted in 2002. The Time story contends that as many as 50,000 unnecessary deaths of women can be attributed to the change in treatment direction that happened when the WHI study was released. As many of you know, the WHI (Women’s Health Initiative) was conducting a fifteen year linear study of women who were receiving hormone replacement treatments. The study was cut off three years early when preliminary data about one of the test groups indicated that these women were more at risk for developing breast cancer and heart problems and were more likely to die. From the data relating to that particular group, the media and then doctors around the United States concluded that hormone replacement therapy, particularly Estrogen replacement would contribute to increased risks of breast cancer in women and lead to more heart related deaths for them as well.

Even though there were more than 2500 studies that had supported selective use of hormone replacement in women prior to the WHI study, this data was so frightening that doctors everywhere turned away from the previous research and experience and quit giving hormone replacement treatments to women who needed them. This Yale University study now concludes that this rush to judgment was bad science and bad communication by the media. The wrong message was spread and as a result women died in large numbers because they did not receive treatments that could have saved their lives.

I have been telling my patients for many years that this study was flawed science and that the conclusions were wrong. The data was there in the study, but no one looked at it and the media never changed the message. It has been an uphill battle to convince other doctors and to convince many in the media that the wrong word was going out. I feel like I have been a voice crying in the wilderness until this week. This week the Yale study vindicated my message. They very strongly say that these women should not have died, and that hormone replacement treatments for women are things that are safe, do not cause breast cancer and will save lives. The argument is now that women and their physicians should consider these treatments individually based on the issues and symptoms the woman is having, and not based on some biased, incorrect, misinterpreted mass produced hysteria.

The other story in the news this week is about athletes, and in particular, baseball stars who have been abusing growth hormones in order to enhance their performance and competitiveness. This is not a new story either, but the concern I have is that the media coverage will lead to a global condemnation of all hormone treatments (not just growth hormone treatments) and lead to a kind of knee jerk reaction similar to the WHI study reaction. We do not want this to happen. Please do not get swept away in the conversation about athletics and competitive advantages to reach a conclusion that hormone replacement, is even in the same category as trying to juice up a professional athlete like tuning a car to get slightly better performance. These hormones are not like gas additives for your car. They are natural body substances that play a role in healthy living and functioning. These treatments are not about competitive advantage, they are about living longer and living with better quality lives. We do not want a knee jerk reaction by politicians who ban these substances from regular medical usage because of a few bad apples in the athletic community.

My friend Brett Newcomb and I discuss both of these topics fully in this week’s podcast, enjoy.