Bioidentical Hormones – the Oprah Controversy

In January 2009 Oprah Winfrey hosted actress Susan Somers discussing her use of bioidentical hormones and other supplements.

After this programme aired Newsweek magazine published a less than flattering cover picture of Oprah with the heading  Crazy Talk: Oprah, Wacky Cures, & You and a blistering attack on the programme entitled Why Health Advice on ‘Oprah’ Could Make You Sick by Weston Kosova.  The article quotes, among others in the anti-bioidentical hormone camp, Dr Nanette Santoro, Director of Reproductive Endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and head of the Reproductive Medicine Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center as saying that Oprah’s guest, Susan Somers, is simply repackaging the old, discredited idea that menopause is some kind of hormone-deficiency disease, and that restoring them will bring back youth . . .They just don’t need as much once they get past their childbearing years. Unless a woman has significant discomfort from hot flashes—and most women don’t—there is little reason to prescribe them.

There was much discussion after the publication of the Newsweek article.

Jumping to Oprah’s defence, Jeffrey Dach MD claims, Oprah’s TV show advocates Natural Medicine and Bioidentical Hormones in direct competition to the interests of the Pharmaceutical Industry that makes synthetic hormones.  Newsweek is merely an attack dog for the drug industry. A typical issue of Newsweek magazine contains $2 million in pharma ads.

Deepak Chopra also entered the debate with a lengthy article entitled Mainstream Medicine & the Oprah Factor in The Huffington Post . He notes, scientific medicine by and large ignores wellness, prevention, and alternative medicine in general. On a daily basis doctors don’t deal in these things; few take courses in medical school centered on them. That’s why a massive movement has arisen driven by patients themselves. Oprah serves as a public outlet for a conversation that needs to be ongoing. As long as official medicine, backed by huge pharmaceutical companies, denies the existence of the problem, much less alternative solutions, the movement will remain patient-centered and the attitude toward alternative medicine will be one of unfounded disdain, suspicion, and ignorance on the part of physicians.

Another interesting response came from Dr Erika, a leading national expert in the fields of natural hormone therapies, anti-aging and disease prevention who has worked with tens of thousands of patients, written four best-selling books, appeared on various news programs including CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN and MSNBC as well as The View, Oprah Radio with Dr. Oz and many others.

She recounts how, in a lecture on bioidentical hormones at Harvard, she asked the chairman of the department of ob-gyn, Isaac Schiff, MD and the rest of the physicians in the audience, “How come Suzanne Somers and Oprah are the ones to teach the public about bioidentical hormones? What has the medical profession done with the information of the Women’s Health Initiative study?  Nine years later and women are still suffering and the medical establishment has not stepped up to the plate to help women find safe solutions to menopausal symptoms. Why are bioidentical hormones still controversial?” They had no answers.


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