The Dangers of Conventional Hormonal Replacement Drugs

The Dangers of Conventional Hormonal Replacement Drugs

Julian Whitaker, MD

Of all the therapies we offer at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, hormone replacement therapy may be the most “touchy.” Women are concerned about the safety of estrogen and progesterone, and with good reason. In the last few years, the very serious dangers of conventional hormone replacement drugs—which I’ve been warning about for years—have finally been exposed.

A Little Bit of History

For years, Premarin was one of the best-selling pharmaceuticals in the world. This estrogen replacement drug was prescribed to women primarily for alleviating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, and other symptoms of menopause, but it was also given to healthy women for protection against osteoporosis, heart disease, and memory loss. It was usually taken in conjunction with Provera, a progestin, or synthetic form of progesterone, to protect against uterine cancer.

Then in 2002, an arm of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a large, government-funded clinical trial, was abruptly halted when it found that Prempro, a drug that combined Premarin and Provera, was doing way more harm than good. Compared to the placebo group, women taking Prempro had an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.

Over the next year, bad news about this hormone regimen continued to trickle in. It was shown to increase the risk of urinary incontinence. Rather than protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, women taking Prempro were twice as likely to have dementia. And although the drug did help with hot flashes and night sweats, it had no effect on mood, energy, or other menopausal symptoms.

Reevaluation of WHI data suggests that Prempro and Premarin did not raise risk of heart attack in women who took it in their 50s. So what? These drugs still increase risk of stroke, breast cancer, and other problems, regardless of age.

Adverse Effects Are Inevitable

The results of the WHI study are hardly surprising. Premarin is extracted from the urine of pregnant mares (hence its name), and since women are not horses, it obviously differs from human estrogen. Furthermore, about half of the drug is estrone, a type of estrogen linked with increased risk of breast cancer. Provera is even worse. Not only is it not human progesterone, it’s not even animal progesterone, but a synthetic progestin with a list of precautions and side effects a mile long.

In the WHI trial, there was one serious adverse event for every 100 women treated for five years. At that time, more than 6 million American women were taking Prempro, and millions more were taking other synthetic or adulterated hormones. According to John Abramson, author of Overdosed America, these drugs have caused well over 100,000 cases of breast cancer over the past 10 years. They’ve also contributed to untold numbers of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and strokes and cases of dementia. Is it any wonder women have misgivings about HRT?

The conclusive and undeniable results of the WHI trial threw Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that makes Prempro and Premarin, into a tailspin. Sales dropped from more than $2 billion in 2001 to $880 million in 2004.

I observed this fiasco with deep concern for the women who had been harmed. However, it didn’t alter my prescribing patterns one iota because for more than 20 years I have been prescribing only bioidentical hormones—hormones that are identical to those produced in a woman’s body.


  • Talk to your doctor about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Even conventional physicians are a little more open to the idea than they were a few years ago.
  • To schedule an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253.


  • Abramson J. Overdosed America. New York: HarperCollins; 2004.
  • Gillson GR, et al. Picking up the pieces after the Women’s Health Initiative trial. Int J Pharmaceutical Compounding. 2003 July/August;7(4):250–256.
  • National Institutes of Health. Facts About Menopausal Hormone Therapy. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/women/pht_facts.pdf. Accessed April 1, 2007.
  • Schmidt JW, et al. Hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women: Past problems and future possibilities. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2006 Oct;22(10):564–577.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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