The narrative surrounding estrogen and progesterone prescriptions has changed over and again—so where do we currently stand?

By Naomi Barr
November 18, 2019

We understand if the whole concept of hormone therapy (HT) has given you whiplash. In the '90s, a prescription was standard to fight insomnia, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and other not-so-fun menopausal side effects. Experts also thought it could reduce the those the risk of heart disease for those predisposed to the condition—as well as the bone fractures that come with losing estrogen over time.

Getty / adamkaz

By the early 2000s, the tide had turned. Women's Health Initiative (WHI) hormone therapy trials found that taking estrogen plus progestin (for women who hadn't had a hysterectomy) made breast cancer, stroke, heart disease, and blood clots more likely, and that estrogen alone (for those who had had one) upped odds of a stroke.

Related: How to Stay Your Healthiest at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70

But then, starting in 2006, new findings began to emerge—namely thanks to a publication by the Nurse's Healthy Study, which found that women who began HT shortly after the onset of menopause reduced their risk of coronary heart disease by 30 percent—this time showing that hormonal therapy's benefits outweighed its risks for most healthy women under age 60 (this is still the standing opinion within the medical community). If you fall into this demographic, the pros of this type of treatment may make it worth your while—which means it might be time to schedule a trip to the doctor.

You should absolutely do so if you're 59 or under, healthy, and within 10 years since your final period. This avenue is also worth considering if you hit menopause before 40, since taking HT until at least (or around) age 51 can help prevent bone loss, heart disease, mood disorders, dementia, sexual dysfunction, and Parkinson's-like symptoms all associate with menopause. And if you're already at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis, HT could help: WHI data shows HT can cut bone fracture odds by up to 33 percent. Other studies indicate even low doses can avert bone loss.

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