'HRT Is Safe for Healthy Women'

But that blanket recommendation makes me cringe as much as the over-hyping of risks.

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It's official, I'm told. Healthy women entering menopause can now relax about hormone replacement therapy and should push aside all those concerns about heart disease, breast cancer, and strokes. That's the conclusion of a group of international experts affiliated with the International Menopause Society who convened at a conference in Madrid today. They're worried that all the negative findings coming from the landmark Women's Health Initiative have been overhyped—that women who really need HRT to combat nasty hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings aren't getting it. Their solution? Make a blanket recommendation that it is "safe for healthy women entering menopause."

Wow! That's pretty gutsy.

The group does make some interesting points about flaws in WHI:

• The average age of women in the study was 63, about a decade older than the typical woman going through menopause.

• Of those randomly assigned to take hormones, 36 percent had high blood pressure, 49 percent were current or past smokers, and 34 percent were obese—all of which puts them at greater risk of suffering heart attacks and strokes. (The problem with this point, though, is that the group randomly assigned to take placebos also had these risk factors.)

My concern is whether this group has ties to the drug industry. I don't know, and I wasn't able to get a response to a query this morning. The International Menopause Society makes no mention of its funding on its website, though it does offer a research prize funded by the drug industry. Some critics are calling on American menopause groups to be transparent about how they receive funding.

So how should you think about this latest recommendation if you're considering taking HRT? Take it with a grain of salt and treat yourself as an individual, rather than lumping yourself in with "all healthy women." How much are your menopausal symptoms interfering with your quality of life? Do you have dense breasts (a risk factor for breast cancer) or a family history of breast cancer? Do you have any heart disease risk factors, like hypertension or smoking? Also, check out what I wrote recently about HRT and strokes and about the higher risk of breast biopsies in those who take hormones.