Womens Health

Estrogen Supplements, Menopause and Cancer

Hot flashes are reported by only 10 percent of Japanese women at menopause. On top of that, bone strength does not diminish to the extent is does among Western women. Broken hips and spinal fractures are far less common. What's their secret?

The Western Diet

Western women consume a lot more animal protein and about four times more fat than women who eat the traditional Asian rice-based diet - and Western women consume only about one-quarter to one-half the amount of fiber. This results in a chronic elevation of estrogen levels. Asian women have lower estrogen levels both before and after menopause, and the drop appears to be less dramatic. It is interesting to note that Western women who eat a low-fat vegetarian diet often go through menopause quite easily. As a matter of fact, estrogen production in a woman's body is increased by high-fat diets and overweight, a risk for breast cancer.

Menopause and HRT

When a woman enters menopause, estrogen production drops significantly as the ovaries stop producing eggs. The most common way to deal with the situation, in the Western world, is through the use of hormone replacement therapy or HRT. It was not news to most doctors when, in 1995, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer. Many doctors continue to prescribe HRT in spite of this knowledge because they feel the benefits to the heart and bones outweigh the cancer risks. Which disease is better - heart disease and osteoporosis or cancer?

The very popular estrogen HRT is Premarin, described as "natural" for women. Premarin is actually horse estrogen. The urine of impregnated mares is used to develop pills which, while rich in estradiol and estrone, two types of estrogen which are made in humans, are also very rich in equilin, a horse estrogen that never occurs in humans. Estrogen supplements can have serious side effects and are particularly risky for women with clotting disorder, undiagnosed vaginal bleeding, liver disease, and a predisposition to breast cancer - either through past history or strong family history. They increase the risk of uterine cancer, unless progesterone is added to the regimen and they increase the incidents of breast cancer, regardless whether progesterone is given or not. Women taking estrogen supplements have 30 to 80 percent more breast cancer risk than other women.

What About Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is very common in Caucasian women and estrogen supplements are thought to address the situation. At their best, however, estrogen supplements only slow the rate of bone deterioration. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eliminating animal protein from the diet can cut urinary calcium losses in half. Cutting salt intake and limiting coffee consumption will add to the gains. Not smoking can mean avoiding a loss of bone density upwards of 10 percent.

And, Heart Disease?

Heart disease can be best addressed through lifestyle changes. One of the best ways to deal with heart disease, menopausal symptoms and address breast cancer risks at the same time is through proper diet, a healthy lifestyle, exercise and stress reduction. You don't need a prescription for that.

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