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  Warning over 'natural' menopause therapies
An Australian study has revealed that more women are dumping hormone replacement therapy in favour of untested alternatives to deal with menopause.

The authors of the study, which is published in the journal Climacteric, warn that such products are unproven for safety and efficacy and unapproved by national health authorities.

"Women often perceive that a product sold as being 'natural' must be safe and, if it is labelled 'bioidentical', it must have the identical beneficial effects of the registered hormone therapy," write the researchers, led by Profressor Alastair MacLennan of the Women's and Children's Hospital at the University of Adelaide.

"Few of those who buy these expensive products understand what they are taking, the relative lack of regulatory protection, and the potential for them to be misinformed, mistreated and misused."

The researchers interviewed 953 women over the age of 40 years in 2008 to find out what they were using to replace their loss of hormones.

The results were then compared against data collected in health surveys conducted in eight similar studies conducted between 1991 and 2004.

They found a sharp decline in both overall prevalence and length of use of conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) from 2003. The researchers attributed to the announcement in 2002 of a study which appeared to link HRT this to a higher risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.

However, they noted that more recent studies pointing to the benefits of HRT and which revised downwards its risks, have not managed to bring women back to HRT.
Alternative increase

In 2004, 15.8% of women above the age of 50 years were using HRT, down from 22% in 2000. In 2004, use of "alternative hormonal therapies" was rare.

In 2008, conventional HRT use fell further for those over 50 years to 11.8%, but the number of women taking alternative untested hormonal therapies had risen to 4%.

"Most objective observers would agree that the risks of HRT were overstated following the early results of part of the US Women's Health Initiative study in 2002," says MacLennan.

"HRT is still the best way to treat debilitating menopausal symptoms for the vast majority of women. These scares have led to HRT use dropping, but for many women, the need for help through the menopause has not gone away, and so women are turning to those selling unproven and possibly dangerous alternatives."

Dr David Sturdee, president of the International Menopause Society, who did not participate in the study, says: "It's extremely important that women receive the correct treatment, rather than try something which may have no effect or may even be harmful.

"I'd urge women to contact their doctor before starting any treatment for menopause symptoms."
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