HRT may help to prolong women's lives

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The Independent Online

Fears over the safety of hormone replacement therapy may have been misplaced and the drugs could actually help to prolong a woman's life, research has found.

Fears over the safety of hormone replacement therapy may have been misplaced and the drugs could actually help to prolong a woman's life, research has found.

Thousands of women stopped taking HRT after two large-scale studies found it was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. But a review of all the available evidence has found that the menopause treatment has no impact on older women's mortality rates and actually increases the life expectancy of younger patients.

The latest evidence was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine yesterday to coincide with the annual conference in Philadelphia of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Scientists from the California-based Santa Clara Valley medical centre looked at 30 clinical studies involving more than 25,000 women. Patients under the age of 60 who were taking HRT had a death rate that was 39 per cent lower than those not taking the treatment. Women over 60 who were on HRT had the same death rates as patients who were not receiving it.

More than a million women in Britain take HRT to treat symptoms of the menopause, but many stopped after the Women's Health Initiative study concluded that the increased risks of heart disease, strokes and breast cancer outweighed the benefits.

The latest review found that while there was an increased risk of some health problems, they did not result in a higher death rate. The treatment is also known to help to prevent other conditions such as hip fractures, diabetes and osteoporosis. The author of the study, Dr Shelley Salpeter, said: "We believe that this analysis provides valuable evidence concerning mortality risk associated with HRT in older and younger women. The results indicate that the benefits of HRT may outweigh the risks if treatment is given to younger women." She added that for older women, in some individual cases the risks may still outweigh the benefits, but decisions should be made on a patient by patient basis.

Nick Panay, a consultant gynaecologist at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London, said the latest research was positive news for HRT users: "It's encouraging that among older women using HRT there is no excess risk of dying. But it shows a possible protective effect for younger women using HRT during a window of opportunity that we think exists when they go through the menopause." Dr Panay added that the research further undermined the findings of controversial studies in both Britain and the Unitd States which found HRT triggered extra cases of heart attacks and breast cancer.

A spokeswoman for the Women's Health Concern group said: "This study is really good news. Menopausal women should be reassured about hormone replacement therapy.

"For the past 18 months, WHC has been extremely concerned that too much emphasis has been put on the results from the previous studies. The results of these studies are severely flawed and have led to thousands of women deciding to stop their HRT treatment.

"At last, someone has looked at the results of the many good HRT studies and found that HRT is very beneficial to women under 60 years."

Sun shines on couples trying to conceive on holiday

The reason why couples with fertility problems conceive after a holiday may at last be explained, the conference in Philadelphia was told.

Research revealed that sunbathing can boost a man's fertility, and men with lower sperm counts have decreased levels of vitamin D, which comes from exposure to sunlight.

Many medical experts have said the relaxation on holiday helped couples concieve, often after years of unsuccessful fertility treatment. But the findings may mean that increased levels of sunlight also play a part.

The authors of the study, from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre in New England, admitted they did not yet know how vitamin D affects sperm concentration and called for further research into the subject.