Study Suggests Hormones Benefit

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — A Dutch study of more than 2,000 women bolsters research suggesting that hormone supplements taken in menopause have cardiovascular benefits.

Compared with subjects who never used estrogen and progestin, women who took those hormone supplements for at least a year had a 47 percent lower risk of peripheral artery disease, or hardening of the arteries in the legs.

Peripheral artery disease affects 8 million Americans, including 5 percent of the over-50 population, according to the Society of Cardiovascular & Interventional Radiology.

It is considered a marker for heart disease in older people because most who have it also have coronary atherosclerosis, or thickening in the arteries to the heart, said Dr. Rita Redberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and a San Francisco cardiologist.

The Dutch findings suggest that the benefits remain after women stop using hormones, according to the study in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, an American Medical Association publication.

Lead researcher Dr. Iris C.D. Westendorp of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues said the results could have important implications for a disease that is becoming more prevalent as the population ages.

However, they noted that other research has suggested that healthier women are more likely to use hormones and the supplements' supposed benefits are due more to ``preexisting characteristics'' of the users.

``We cannot exclude the possibility that some (or the whole) of our findings are based on this selection bias,'' the authors wrote.

Hormones have long been believed to lower the risk of heart attack by improving cholesterol levels, though recent research suggests there is no protective effect in users who already have heart disease.

U.S. researchers hope their ongoing Women's Health Initiative — a nationwide study comparing effects of hormones with a placebo — will clear up the confusion.

Though the Dutch study was well done, its findings cannot be considered conclusive until completion of randomized studies like the Women's Health Initiative, Redberg said.

The Dutch study involved 2,196 women ages 55 to 80 living near Rotterdam. Hormone treatment for up to more than 15 years, with either estrogen alone or with progestin, was reported by 351 women.

Of those 351 women, 34 had peripheral arterial disease. That compared with disease diagnosed in 247 of the 1,837 women who didn't use hormones.

Overall, hormone users had a 30 percent lower risk of arterial disease, though use for less than a year wasn't associated with a protective effect.


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