5 myths about HRT you may need to rethink

Hormone replacement therapy is often the first line of treatment for menopausal women, but it’s not without its controversy and confusion. Experts bust some common misconceptions.

For many women, hormone replacement therapy is a godsend for alleviating the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.

Also known as menopausal hormonal therapy, it is regarded as the most effective way of managing hot flushes, sleep problems, painful joints and vaginal dryness.

But there’s no shortage of confusion about HRT or MHT.

We break down five of the most common myths:

Taking MHT or HRT may give me breast cancer

“A major barrier to women taking HRT is their concern about their risk of breast cancer,” says Dr Sonia Davison, endocrinologist at women’s health organisation Jean Hailes.

A recent report in The Lancet stated that women who use MHT for more than one year have an increased risk of breast cancer.

But the International Menopause Society says most of the hormone therapies involved in the research were different from those currently used.

“There is a small risk of breast cancer but this needs to be weighed against improving quality of life,” adds Dr Davison.

HRT or MHT will make me put on weight

Hormonal changes during menopause do cause fat to shift from the hips to the stomach – but weight gain is not due to hormone therapy.

“Women put on weight around menopause if they are not mindful of what they eat and their physical activity levels,” says Dr Davison.

“One study followed a group of women around menopause and found those who didn’t put on weight did about 60 minutes of exercise per day.”

Complementary medicines are as effective as HRT or MHT

“Women are frightened about taking hormone therapy, so they opt for things they perceive to be safer. But reviews suggest there is no benefit in taking complementary products for menopausal symptoms,” says Dr Davison.

The Australasian Menopause Society adds that often there is no way of knowing if complementary therapies are safe or uncontaminated, especially if bought online.

HRT or MHT increases the risk of heart disease

Hormone therapy may provide a “window of opportunity” to protect the heart.

“If you give HRT to women close to menopause it may reduce cardiovascular risk,” explains Dr Davison.

This is particularly helpful for women who experience premature or early menopause and who are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Compounded bioidentical hormone therapy is better than conventional HRT or MHT

The Australasian Menopause Society says doctors advise against compounded bioidentical hormone therapy.

This kind of therapy uses compounded products marketed as hormones that are identical to those produced by the body.

Production of these is not subject to the strict regulatory conditions of approved pharmaceutical products and some have been linked to side effects such as endometrial cancer.

Written by Sarah Marinos.