One of the most common medical treatments being given today is forms of hormone replacement therapy for women going through and after the menopause. One of the most important reasons for this treatment is the prevention of osteoporosis, a deterioration in the quality and strength of bones due to hormonal changes during this time. Another reason advocating this therapy is for the prevention of heart disease. The therapy has become so popular now that doctors often advocate it without any clinical reasons to do so, merely as a preventative treatment.

However, a recent report has challenged the assumptions of its effect on prevention of heart disease, and was written about in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 24th. In fact, the report said that for women who already have heart disease and for a small number of healthy women, the treatment may actually increase the risk of stroke or heart attack. The newspaper article stated that another large study will be completed by 2005 that will track 27,000 women being given either hormone therapy of placebo.

The use of hormone therapy has always been controversial as some studies have shown that it can increase the risk of breast cancer. Also, the evidence that supports its use in osteoporosis is conflicting. Some studies have shown that in order for bone densities to be increased, hormones have to be given for up to 10 years, and that once they are discontinued, the bone density levels decline to the same level as women who do not take hormones (New England Journal of Medicine, 14 Oct 1993).

Another concern widely written about today is the use of synthetic hormones instead of more "natural" forms of estrogen and progesterone, the hormones used in the therapy. A new book by Christine Northrop discusses this in detail and is well worth reading if you are considering this therapy. It will give you the information you need to know to discuss with your doctor.

Taking hormones for a short period of time for severe symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, emotional swings, night sweats etc can be effective. However, alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture can also effectively treat these symptoms, as well as looking at other issues such as bone density and ones overall health through this period. To prevent bone loss, other therapies such as nutritional supplementation with emphasis on minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc should be considered. Calcium supplements generally should not be taken alone as it can leech out other minerals, especially magnesium.

People have accused medicine of making menopause into a disease, whereas many women go through this period without much problem and therefore probably dont need to take anything for it. For those who do suffer acute symptoms of menopause then it is good to look at all the options available.