HRT – Is it really worth the risk?

So, this week has seen the publication of a comprehensive world-wide study by Oxford University about the link between breast cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy. And, shock-horror, they’ve found that the risk is greater than previously thought.

This isn’t new though, is it. The link between these two has been known about since the turn of this century. Since then, there has been so many conflicting studies, it’s not surprising women are confused and anxious about whether or not to use this method of alleviating symptoms of the menopause.

It’s no secret that my view is that there are many natural ways of dealing with the likes of hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and so on, but of course the choice is up to the individual.

However, I’ve been so dismayed by the reporting of this latest finding, the down-playing, dismissing and miss-informing that’s going on, I’ve felt compelled to rant a little, and offer a balance of alternatives.

In one news report, I read that HRT was worth the risk because having breast cancer was hardly the death sentence it used to be! Really??? Tell that to the families of the two beautiful friends that I’ve lost in the last 5 years. Friends diagnosed with early stage 1 and 2 breast cancer in their 40’s – both with a better prognosis than me, both who dutifully took the drug tamoxifen that was the ‘gold standard highly researched’ drug that was supposed to help prevent it metastasizing. It didn’t.

Although rates are improving, in the UK, around 11,500 people die from breast cancer a year and 1 in 7 will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. When I was diagnosed 9 years ago, that number was 1 in 10. That’s a rapid increase. Oh, and by the way, TREATMENT IS BLOODY AWFUL! It’s cruel, scary, debilitating and can be soul-destroying. So don’t let breast cancer be ‘normalised’. Just because it’s common and the ‘middle class cancer’ and is therefore high profile, it isn’t OK. You do not want to have to go through this.

Anyway, back to HRT. Marilyn Glenville PhD states in her book ‘Natural Solutions To Menopause’, ‘I believe that the menopause is a natural phase in every woman’s life and should not be medicalised by replacing hormones that should not be there at that stage’.

HRT also does not replace like with like either. The hormones in these drugs are synthetic and trigger oestrogen receptor sites in the breast, ovaries and womb – places these should not be triggered at this time. Hence the increased risk to, not only breast but ovarian and womb cancers too.

Other side effects have also been linked to HRT, e.g. weight gain/loss, bloating, depression, high blood pressure, skin rashes, hair loss… to name a few.

My friends that take HRT tell me how much better they feel – and maybe they do. There is no doubt that many symptoms can be alleviated by it and I would never judge anyone for choosing this path. My only advise to them, and anyone thinking of taking it is this – please think carefully. Is it really worth the risk? Are your symptoms SO unbearable? Have you tried other ways?

I guess it comes down to individual choice and there’s no doubt that for those experiencing early menopause, then HRT may be the right choice. But for those going through it at the right time of life, or like me, medically induced (and the right time!), you could choose to make changes to lifestyle, exercise, diet and mindset. All of these can make a huge difference, not just to the menopause but to life beyond it.

I’m now 58. My menopause experience was awful, it cost me my job and nearly my sanity. However, I gradually learned how to get my life back and have made changes that have drastically reduced my symptoms. Not only that, I am not on any medication. My BP, cholesterol and bones are fine. I don’t have any regular aches and pains and I feel calmer and happier than I’ve ever done.

I can’t blame HRT for my breast cancer experience – I was never on it (although I was on the Pill – another story). I believe that there are many factors that lead to any disease. Stress and mindset play a huge part. For me, it’s like pieces of a jigsaw being put together, and when all the pieces of lifestyle factors and mindset join up, disease (or dis-ease) is created. HRT is just a piece of the jigsaw – how significant, no one really knows, everyone’s jigsaw is different. That’s why the side-effects, including breast cancer are ‘risk factors’, not certainties.

So, lets end on a positive. Here are a few tips for natural ways to help with symptoms I mentioned in the podcast I did a few weeks ago.

  • Hydrate – drink plenty of water, especially in the morning. Symptoms of de-hydration are VERY similar to many menopausal ones.
  • Eat phytoestrogens such as lentils, beans, fermented soy, nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed) as part of a balanced diet
  • Adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet to balance hormones and protect bones, joints and heart.
  • Exercise every day. I’m no gym bunny but I walk miles – it’s what we’re meant to do.
  • Change your limiting beliefs about ageing and begin a gratitude journal to interrupt those negative thoughts that keep you grumbling.
  • Reduce stress by changing how you react to people and situations (you have a choice) and limit time with toxic people/in toxic environments and try a stress relieving routine such as meditation, yoga, gardening.
  • Get outside, be in nature and re-connect as often as you can, even in Winter.
  • Love yourself – and be thankful we live long enough to experience this phase of life!

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