Hormones are good. Hormones are bad. Take your pick. If you're a woman approaching menopause you can find studies that appear to support both of these points of view. A new study being presented at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society probably won't help.
The so-called KEEPS study, which has been eagerly awaited by doctors treating women at menopause, looked at the effect of giving estrogen to women who are newly menopausal rather than many years past menopause (the average age of menopause in this country is 51).
It found that taking estrogen and progesterone may help the heart in some cases but the researchers didn't reach a conclusion about whether taking hormones substantially increased the risk of stroke or breast cancer for these women. (That was primarily because of the small number of women in the study — fewer than 800.)
That's important because the increased risk of stroke and breast cancer was the main reason hormones lost popularity among women and doctors in the wake of a massive federal study 10 years ago called the Women's Health Initiative.
KEEPS stands for Kronos Earlly Estrogen Prevention Study. The research was sponsored by the Kronos Longevity Research Institute.
It's important to note that the results do not substantially change current medical advice on hormones, which is that the drugs should only be used for a relatively short period of time – generally just a few years – and only to help women who are suffering from severe hot flashes and have not been able to find relief through lifestyle changes like losing weight or stopping smoking.
You and your doctor should talk about whether your personal medical history makes you a good candidate for hormones.