Dr Christiane Northrup looks at hormone replacement in the last section of this blog post – the rest of the post is useful too.
In Western Medicine, drugs are created to treat symptoms as opposed to the root cause of the condition. If you only suppress your symptoms, instead of also addressing the cause, your body will often protest by developing so-called “side effects” to medication or even by developing another dis-ease. This is how our bodies talk to us. But, there is nothing “side” about these effects—they are the direct result of the drugs.
Many of the most popular drugs being prescribed for millions have significant side effects that just don’t outweigh the risks. There are three drugs, which are frequently prescribed to women, that fall into this category—and which I personally would not take.
Statins for Heart Health
Statin drugs are prescribed to lower cholesterol. And the myth is that lowering cholesterol is the key to preventing heart disease. But the latest research has shown that things are far more complex than that. The truth is that statins deplete the body’s CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10)—a vital nutrient for producing energy in the cells.1 Of all the organs, the heart requires the most energy and CoQ10 to function properly. So why take a medication for heart health that depletes a vital nutrient shown to support the heart—as well as every cell in your body?
Low levels of CoQ10 have also been linked to depression and dementia, as well as muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, and nerve damage—all of which are also known side effects of statins.2 And because your body makes less CoQ10 as you age, taking any medication that lowers CoQ10 is not advisable. Further, fat—and fat in the form of cholesterol—has been vilified as the enemy of a health heart. Actually, sugar is the real culprit, not fat, because sugar causes inflammation. And this inflammation taxes the cardiovascular system and the entire body.
If you want to protect your heart, start by reducing inflammation. This means a healthy diet and supplements that are high in antioxidants. Taking vitamin E has been shown to keep blood platelets slippery (so fewer blood clots) and reduce inflammation.3(See The Wisdom of Menopause for a complete list of heart-healthy supplements and foods.)
Heart health also has an emotional component. If you want to truly heal your heart—or protect it at midlife—you need courage to look closely at any source of emotional pain, and then heal this brokenness with compassion, faith in the Divine, and emotional release. You were meant to have an open heart—to give and receive love, and to live joyfully.
Bisphosphonates for Bone Loss
Your body is constantly renewing itself. Older or damaged cells are eliminated by the body, so that newer, healthier cells can take their place. Your bones go through this cycle, too. If you have decreased bone mass, that means that your body is breaking down bone faster than it is creating new bone.
The most popular treatment is a biphosphonate, such as Actonel, Boniva, or Fosomax. These medications prevent bone breakdown and therefore bone loss. Although this sounds like a good idea, these drugs interfere with the natural cycle of breakdown and restoration.4 The result is older, porous, brittle bone—and brittle bone means an increased likelihood of fractures.5
Bisphosphonates have significant side effects, too, including back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and constipation.6 And some women have suffered osteonecrosis of the jaw—death of bone tissue—a condition that is not treatable7 We’re also seeing atypical fractures of the femur that don’t heal! All because of dense bone that doesn’t remodel and allow in a good blood supply. Many dentists are also seeing an increasing need for root canal surgery because of these drugs.
In about 50 percent of women prescribed a biphosphonate will stop treatment because of these side effects.
Even with these side effects, bisphosphonates may offer some benefit for women over 70 who already have osteoporosis. But I want you to protect your bones much earlier than that! And that means promoting bone health naturally. Be sure to get plenty of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. (Studies suggest that to keep your vitamin D levels in the optimal range requires 5,000 IU/day!) I also suggest eating an alkaline diet, getting plenty of weight-bearing exercise, and considering bioidentical hormones or plant hormones (phytoestrogens) that have estrogenic effects.
Premarin, Prempro, and All Other Synthetic Hormones
I’ve been talking about bioidentical hormones for nearly three decades. And it still surprises me when women — and doctors — don’t know the difference between bioidentical hormones and synthetic ones. Bioidentical hormones are created to be an exact match in molecular structure to a woman’s body. That is what makes them “bioidentical.” In contrast, non-bioidentical estrogen, such as the estrogen in Premarin, is bioidentical only if your native food is hay. That’s because it is made from the urine of pregnant horses. Hence the name Pre (pregnant) Mar (mares) in (urine). Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone that is derived from bioidentical progesterone. The reason for this is that you can’t patent a bioidentical hormone that naturally occurs in nature. And so—to make progesterone marketable—it was changed into a compound not native to the female human body.
For about two decades, Premarin (just estrogen) and Prempro (Premarin plus Provera, a synthetic form of progesterone) were the gold standard for many doctors. And the one-pill-fits-all-women approach was the only option women were given. Then, in 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative Studies showed that women who supplemented with synthetic estrogen or Progestin had more incidences of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots than those who were given a placebo. Once thought to confer heart health and other benefits, women suddenly became wary of these drugs. 9
The best approach for hormone therapy is one that is unique to you. Women can have their levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, and other hormones tested. Or simply pay attention to how you feel — which I find is a far more accurate way to assess hormone balance than testing your levels. The results (and how you feel) allow you and your doctor to customize a treatment plan that is right for you. Start with the lowest dose possible and see how you do. Better yet, change your diet to a low sugar, organic food approach. Add a natural herbal remedy such as Pueraria mirifica,maca, black cohosh, ground golden flaxseed, or chasteberry. And if that doesn’t work, then try the bioidenticals.
Remember that hormone therapy can take a few trials and errors. It’s a work in progress — just like you are at menopause.
You aren’t destined to wind up on various preventative medications. My mom is in her late 80s and she isn’t on any medication! Neither is my doctor friend Gladys who likes to say “93 and prescription free.” Before you take any medications regularly, make sure you are informed about all the risks and benefits. Does the drug cause nutritional deficiencies? Are you increasing your risk of cancer or heart disease? If so, seek out some alternatives that won’t put your health at risk.
- Langsjoen, P.H., & Langsjoen, A.M. (2003) The clinical use of HMG CoA-reductase inhibitors and the associated depletion or coenzyme Q10. A review of animal and human publications. Biofactors, 18 (1-4), 101-111.
- Scott, R.S., et al. (1991). Simvastatin and side effects N Z Med J, 104, 493-495. Laise, E. (Nov 2003). The Lipitor dilemma. Smart Money: The Wall Street Journal Magazine of Personal Business, 12(11), 90-96. Golumb, B.A., et al. (2007) Physician response to patient reports of adverse drug effects: Implications for patient-tergeted adverse effect surveillance. Drug Safety, 30, 669-675. King, D.S., et al. (2003). Cognitive impairment associated with atorvastatin and simvastatin. Pharmacology, 23, 1663-1667.
- Stampfer, M.J., et al. (1993). Vitamin E consumption and the risk of coronary artery disease in women. New Engl J Med, 328 20), 1444-1449.
- Odvina, C.V., et al. (2004). Severely suppressed bone turnover: A potential complication of alendronate therapy. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 90, 1294-1301.
- Parker-Pope, T. (July, 15 2008) Drugs to buil bones may weaken them. New York Times, available online www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/health/15well.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
- National Osteoporosis Foundation, http://nof.org/articles/22
- Ruggiero, S.L. et al. (2004). Ostenecrosisof the jaws associated witht the use of bisphosphonates: A review of 63 cases. J Oral Maxillofacial Surg. 62, 527-534.
- Neviaser, A.S., et al. (2008). Low-energy femoral shaft fractures associated with alendronate use. J Orthop Trauma, 22, 346-350.
- Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators (2002). Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: Principal