- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

So much for singer Patti LaBelle's "ooh, ooh, ooh," new hormone-replacement-therapy (HRT) attitude. The Sistagirls are pushing the pause button on that pill-pushing pitch.
Sistagirl Jacqueline Roundtree of Alexandria called with the "scary" news flash that "the sistas are upset about this HRT business and you don't have to go that far to find baby boomers who know somebody on it if they are not on it themselves."
For years HRT drugs have been billed as the cure-all for maturing women to master menopause. However, some feel the rug has been pulled out from under them with the release of new information that will undoubtedly change how women make it through "the change." Last week, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) halted research three years early after its findings indicated that HRT that involved a combination of estrogen and progestin known as Prempro caused more harm than good for the 16,000 women in their study. For women taking estrogen only, the findings were inconclusive as to benefits vs. risks.
About 14 million of the 50 million menopausal women in the United States are taking some formula of HRT drugs. The earthshaking study showed the women had an increased chance of heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer but a decreased chance of colon cancer and osteoporosis. With that news flash, come more hot flashes. Some from women who stopped the therapy immediately and are experiencing a return of menopausal hot flashes. Others are just hot about feeling mislead by the medical and research establishment.
Far more are confused and concerned. They just don't know what to do since the information is so slim and slippery. Eat a lot of Mexican yams or black cohosh, the latest back-to-nature remedy for hot flashes? According to Ms. Roundtree, the general Sistagirl consensus is "that if this [study] was about men and men's' stuff, they would never have allowed men to be harmed this long,"
Judy Mueller, executive director of the Women's Center, reportedly expressed similar sentiments when she asked how could women have been misled for so long? Further, she wondered why doctors, researchers and drug manufacturers do not better correlate information about women's health, which, in turn, would help women make better decisions about prevention and treatment.
However, the absolute best advice I've heard comes from Diona DeShields of Silver Spring, who said, "You have to be your own best advocate, you have to be responsible for yourself and pay attention." Ms. DeShields, a special-events consultant who has been on a hormone-replacement regimen for 2 years, said she's "happy to take those pills" because the risk to her is relatively little juxtaposed to the benefits.
"I have a business to run, and I have to be at the top of my game," she said. Without the drugs, she suffers "severe sleep disruption, a foggy, cloudy mind and hot flashes, and I couldn't take it."
Besides, "If women have been paying attention, every six months there's a study that contradicts another study, and in six months there'll be another study to contradict the National Institutes of Health study." In Ms. DeShields' opinion, the medical-research community is more concerned with securing grant money but, "no one is committed to solving this problem for women."
Sherry Conway Appel, a Prince George's County resident and cancer survivor, has been taking HRT for seven years. She said, "You have to be a smart patient." So she "goes to the source" and researches medical journals to wade through all the information about HRT and other health issues. "The same folks who come up with this stuff have not come up with good alternative solutions," she said.
The days of depending on Dr. Marcus Welby M.D. alone are gone the way of the television character. Can you believe that I had a male gynecologist who told me that he didn't like to have "women like you in my practice" because we asked too many questions, and the insurance companies no longer pay him to spend time talking to patients?
Unlike Ms. DeShields, Beverly Silverberg of Silverberg Communications in College Park said she decided to stop taking the drugs after 10 years upon hearing the "very upsetting" news.
"It wasn't like I did this blind, but there wasn't much to see and that ticked me off," she said. In taking the drugs, women have the hard choice between enduring extreme discomfort during menopause if they don't take them or the possibility of debilitating or fatal disease later if they do.
For years, Mrs. Silverberg said, medicine was dominated by men. The good news is that more women have entered the profession and more studies are being conducted as a result. She participates in an annual survey conducted by WHI that monitors her health status because she wants her daughter, Nina, to have better information to make better choices when she get older.
Some women, like Sharon Robinson of Northeast, are trying to handle their changing health issues through natural methods such as diet and exercise. A number of local medical doctors such as Dr. Ahmad Shamin, naturopaths such as Andrea Sullivan and health food stores such as the Abundant Life Center on Georgia Avenue NW specialize in homeopathic approaches to wellness.
The most important thing that each of us can do is to become our own best physician. Get to know your body and what works, or doesn't work, well for you.
Without your health you can't accomplish anything. And, remember that anytime anyone wants to do little more than push pills your way, it's time to pause and say "ooh, ooh, ooh," I need a new (approach to my health) attitude.


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