Recent headlines and hysteria surrounding menopause hormones have left millions of women confused about their safety and effectiveness. In her book, The Hormone Decision, Tara Parker-Pope, a health columnist for The Wall Street Journal, explores the controversial history and science of hormone therapy. Dr. Oz talks to Tara about some of the myths and facts surrounding menopause, as well as treatments for coping with its symptoms.
The Grandmother Hypothesis
While there are many theories of why women go through menopause, Tara says she does not believe it's because humans are simply living longer than nature intended. Instead, she cites The Grandmother Hypothesis as the most reasonable explanation, the idea being that the best thing humans can do from an evolutionary standpoint is to stop having children in order to preserve their bodies and energy to help nurture and raise grandchildren.
Most grandmothers would probably favor this viewpoint, too, Tara says. "They know what they contribute to their families and to their grandchildren and to society in general," she says. "I think that menopause makes a lot of sense—it's actually quite an exciting, wonderful, empowering time for women, you're no longer shackled by the burdens of reproduction and you can find a whole new way to contribute to society."
Coping with Symptoms
While menopause may mark the beginning of a whole new passage in a woman's life, coping with the symptoms can be difficult. Hormone replacement therapy uses estrogen and progesterone to reduce the symptoms of menopause. It can also minimize some of the side effects that women experience during menopause, as they lose the hormones that have governed them throughout their reproductive lives.
Tara refers to the National Institutes of Health's Women's Health Initiative study, which says that one of the most important things learned in recent years is that the timing of hormone therapy appears to be the key issue for using it safely. Hormones appeared to help younger women, but they are risky for older women who start using them long past menopause. "There's a very strong suggestion throughout the study that the timing of hormone therapy matters," Tara says. "If you take hormones for symptoms—symptomatic women [have] hot flashes, sleep problems, moods problem, vaginal health problems—those women have much to gain. They experience the benefits of hormone therapy, and given their age and the timing of therapy, the risks are either far lower or nonexistent."