Here’s what scientists know:
- Endometrial problems—While estrogen helps some women with symptom management during and after menopause, it can raise the risk of certain problems. Estrogen may cause a thickening of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and increase the risk of endometrial cancer. To lessen these risks, doctors now prescribe progesterone or a progestin, in combination with estrogen, to women with a uterus to protect the lining.
- Heart disease—The role of estrogen in heart disease is complex. Early studies suggested MHT could lower postmenopausal women’s risk for heart disease—the number one killer of women in the United States. But results from the NIH Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) suggest that using estrogen with or without a progestin after menopause does not protect women from heart disease and may even increase their risk.
- Dementia—Some observational studies have suggested that estrogen may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. However, testing in clinical trials in older, postmenopausal women has challenged that view. In 2003, researchers leading the WHI Memory Study (WHIMS), a substudy of the WHI, reported that women age 65 and older who took one kind of estrogen combined with progestin were at twice the risk for developing dementia compared to women who did not take any hormones. In 2004, WHIMS scientists reported that using the same kind of estrogen alone also increased the risk of developing dementia in women age 65 and older compared to women not taking any hormones. What possibly accounts for the different findings between the observational and clinical studies? One central issue may be timing. The women in the WHIMS trial started treatment a decade or more after menopause. In observational studies that reported estrogen’s positive effects on cognition, the majority of women began treatment soon after menopause. This has led researchers to wonder if it may be advantageous to begin treatment earlier, at a time closer to menopause. Additionally, it appears that progesterone and progestins (progesterone-like compounds) differ in their impact on brain health.
The conversion of naturally produced DHEA into estrogen and testosterone is highly individualized. There is no way to predict who will make more or less of these hormones. Having an excess of testosterone or estrogen in your body could be risky.
Scientists do not yet know the effects of long-term (defined as over 1 year) use of DHEA supplements. Early indications are that these supplements, even when taken briefly, may have detrimental effects on the body, including liver damage.”
“Researchers are working to find more definite answers about DHEA’s effects on aging, muscles, and the immune system. In the meantime, if you are thinking about taking DHEA supplements, be aware that the effects are not fully known and might turn out to cause more harm than good.”
Until more is known about antioxidants, resveratrol, and hormone supplements, consumers should view these types of supplements with a good deal of caution and doubt. Despite what advertisements on television, the internet, and magazines may claim, there are no specific therapies proven to prevent aging. Some harmful side effects already have been discovered; additional research may uncover others.
I hope this information has been helpful and as always, please feel free to share your comments.