Pharmaceutical drugs are fraught with side effects, some mild and some deadly. The number of reported in-hospital adverse drug reactions to prescribed medications is estimated to be about 2.2 million per year. About 783,000 people die each year in the United States alone from iatrogenic causes (that is, health problems inadvertently induced by a medical treatment or diagnostic procedure).Of those deaths, about 106,000 are from side effects of a drug or combination of drugs.
One horrifying “side effect” of certain pharmaceutical medications is breast cancer. Until recently, little attention was given to the frightening increased risk of breast cancer associated with such medications as birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), certain heart medications, various antidepressants, and many other pharmaceuticals.
Each of these medications has specific ways that it increases your risk of breast cancer. Most drugs are metabolized in the liver, and scientists have found that they may interfere with the liver’s ability to detoxify carcinogens. When your liver function is impaired, more carcinogens remain in your body, and thereby increase your risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer. That’s why your Warrior Goddess prefers that you supply her with foods, herbs, and other natural approaches, rather than pharmaceuticals whenever possible.
In a laboratory study published in 1987 in the journal Cancer, researchers found that the combination of estrogen and progestin (found in many birth control pills) stimulates breast cells to grow and divide and accelerates the growth of breast cancer. In another study, published more than twenty years ago in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, premenopausal women who used the pill after age forty were found to have a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer. More recent studies show that women who have a mother or sister with breast cancer and take the pill long term also have a significantly increased risk of breast cancer.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT)
To combat perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, Western medicine developed synthetic hormones. Drug companies promoted hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as the long-sought-after fountain of youth. HRT, women were told, lowered the risk of heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis. But recent studies, including the Women’s Health Initiative Study, have found that the opposite is true: Women taking HRT have an increased risk of heart disease, strokes, blood clots, gallbladder disease, and invasive breast cancer. It is true that HRT does help to prevent osteoporosis, but not any more so than a little weight-bearing exercise and a diet high in calcium-rich foods.
Pharmaceutical companies, as well as many doctors, still downplay the level of risk associated with these synthetic hormones. But research published in the August 2003 issue of the prestigious journal The Lancet found that the risk was considerable. One-quarter of all the women between the ages of fifty and sixty-four in Britain—1 million women—were followed from 1996 until 2002. Those women who took HRT had a 66 percent increased incidence of breast cancer and a 22 percent greater risk of dying from it. Those women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin had a 100 percent higher risk of breast cancer than those women who never took hormones. The women who took estrogen alone had a 30 percent higher risk. And the longer the women took these hormones, the higher their risk became. Of the women who developed breast cancer, those who had taken hormones had more aggressive tumors than those who had never taken them. Aggressive tumors are very dangerous because they’re more likely to spread throughout the body and cause an early death. The researchers of this landmark study in England estimated that HRT was responsible for 20,000 cases of breast cancer over the ten-year period from 1992 to 2002.
Several other studies have also found a significant connection between HRT and breast cancer. For instance, the Nurses’ Health Study, a large epidemiological study, followed 58,520 women who took HRT from age fifty to sixty. When these women reached the age of seventy, they were found to have a 23 percent higher risk of breast cancer. However, the women who took estrogen plus progestin had a much higher risk of breast cancer—67 percent. Another study published in JAMA in 2002 found that long-term users of HRT who took either estrogen alone or estrogen with progestin had a 60 to 85 percent increased incidence of breast cancer.
Researchers have also discovered that HRT causes an unusual type of breast cancer called “invasive lobular carcinoma.” The majority of all breast cancers start in the breast ducts. They are called “ductal carcinomas.” Lobular carcinoma originates in the terminal lobules or milk glands. A study published in 2003 in JAMA found that women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin had a 50 percent higher risk of lobular carcinoma. They also noted that the overall incidence in the United States of this far less common type of breast cancer increased from 9.5 percent in 1987 to 15.6 percent in 1999. HRT is thought to be the primary cause of this alarming escalation.
Taking HRT substantially increases the risk of ovarian cancer, too. Ovarian cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer. The average woman has only a 1.7 percent chance of developing this disease over her lifetime, whereas the risk of breast cancer for the average woman is 13.3 percent. In a 2002 study published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), women who took HRT for ten to nineteen years had an 80 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Millions of women in the United States have been prescribed HRT. It was one of the top pharmaceuticals sold for many years. In 2002, an estimated 8 million women in the United States were on some form of HRT. With this extensive use, you’d think that this pharmaceutical product would have been thoroughly studied, both before it was put on the market and afterward. But a well-designed study wasn’t conducted on HRT until forty years after it was put on the market
NATURE’S PERFECT DESIGN
Prescribing hormones for menopausal symptoms is a perfect example how the Western paradigm of health can be so off the mark sometimes, that the consequences can be catastrophic. We seem to forget that Nature designed human beings perfectly. We can’t outsmart Nature no matter how hard we try. We shouldn’t try to overpower it, but rather work with it. Menopause, for example, isn’t a disease or a condition that needs to be treated or controlled. The hormonal changes that women go through are perfect by design. They are part of the natural progression of life. Symptoms arise from imbalances caused by poor choices in diet and lifestyle. Restoring balance naturally is the solution; suppressing the symptoms of imbalances with supplemental hormones is not.
If you suffer from menopausal symptoms and are looking for relief, or if you want to stop taking hormones, there are many safe and effective natural approaches you can take including taking Brevail. There are several good books that I recommend for more information. Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., wrote an excellent book on the Ayurvedic approach to menopause called The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty After Forty. Two other outstanding books are The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., and Dr. Susan Love’s Hormone Book, by Susan Love, M.D.
This information is used with permission by Christine Horner, MD www.drchristinehorner.com