- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

Not every medical finding on the female hormone estrogen is negative. New studies are emphasizing potential benefits of estrogen-replacement therapy rather than its risks.

In 2002 and again last year, large-scale clinical trials by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gauging effects of hormone therapy on more than 10,000 women were shortened or halted after organizers determined that the treatment could put some women at increased risk for breast cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Subsequently, much of the research and press coverage about estrogen has been negative. That may be changing, however.

The Yale University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and a consortium of five other research institutions are recruiting more than 700 women for a five-year study to determine whether estrogen therapy can prevent heart disease.

“We think estrogen can help prevent the disease if started early enough,” said investigator Dr. Hugh Taylor of Yale’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

But Dr. Taylor had additional news. A separate Yale study released Friday found that long-term, consistent hormone therapy reduced and prevented facial wrinkles, while increasing skin firmness.

Those findings might imply only cosmetic benefits, but Dr. Taylor said the rejuvenating effects also could take place elsewhere in the body.

“What is happening in the skin may be reflective of the functioning of other organs such as heart and bone, which might also be benefiting from estrogen therapy,” he said.

Meanwhile, preliminary findings from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) released last week indicated that estrogen may protect cerebral blood vessels shielding them from the damaging effects of free radicals, and potentially lowering stroke risk.

“We want to find out more how estrogen can protect blood vessels in the brain. When we gain a fuller understanding, we hopefully can figure out how best to realize potential benefits of hormone-replacement therapies,” said geneticist Dr. Vincent Procaccio.

Another UCI study released last month found that estrogen may help reduce troublesome thickening of heart tissue and heart enlargement in women who have had a heart attack.

The NIH conclusion “that estrogen is not beneficial in preventing coronary heart disease” has spawned intense debate in the medical community, said UCI researcher Dr. Ellis Levin.

“Our work suggests that further in-depth studies should be taken to determine if estrogen supplements prevent cardiac hypertrophy,” Dr. Levin said, referring to heart enlargement.

Other findings reveal further positive effects. Last year, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center researchers found that low-dose estrogen therapy “significantly” reduced the progression of fatty buildup in blood vessels leading to the heart. Studies at the Oregon Health & Science University revealed that estrogen may help ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis, arthritis and diabetes.

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