New study questions the ability of hormone supplements to improve women's moods and energy levels

Tuesday, February 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ A new study questions the effectiveness of hormone supplements in improving a woman's mood and energy level.

The study found that hormones improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression in postmenopausal women who said they had hot flashes before starting on the pills.

However, no significant mental health benefits were found in women without initial hot flashes. These women also reported a more rapid decline in energy and physical activity while on hormones than a placebo group.

The findings ``should challenge the widely held belief that hormone therapy helps women remain more youthful, active or vibrant,'' Drs. JoAnn Manson and Kathryn Rexrode of Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital said in an accompanying editorial.

The study, published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, involved 2,763 postmenopausal women with heart disease, age 67 on average. They reported on their health changes during three years of hormone treatment.

Whether similar results would be found in younger women closer to the average age of menopause _ 51 _ or in women without heart disease is unknown, the researchers said.

The findings add to the dilemma millions of women face over taking hormones at menopause.

The supplements prevent osteoporosis and so-called vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. But there is conflicting evidence about whether the pills help the heart, and some studies have suggested they increase the risk of breast cancer.

Many women think taking hormones will improve their mood and their energy levels, and many doctors prescribe the pills for those reasons.

But until now, little data existed about such purported benefits, said Dr. Mark Hlatky of Stanford University, who led the study.

Manson said the findings suggest that the mood-improving benefits result solely from hormones' effects on vasomotor symptoms, which can cause loss of sleep and severe fatigue.

Hlatky noted that hormones can cause side effects such as breast tenderness and abnormal vaginal bleeding that might explain the quality-of-life findings in women without hot flashes.

Participants in Hlatky's study were randomly assigned to receive the estrogen-progestin supplement Prempro or a placebo. They answered questionnaires each year asking about mental health, depression, vitality and physical function. Prempro manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst funded the study.