Challenging Oprah (Again) on Hormone Therapy

Kurt
S oller

Early 
this 
week, 
our 
two 
resident 
menopause 
experts, 
Pat 
Wingert 
and 
Barbara

Kantrowitz, took 
issue 
with 
an
 Oprah
 special 
on 
Hormone 
Therapy.

In 
the 
episode, the 
television 
host 
praised 
her 
guest, 
Suzanne 
Somers, 
for 
a 
health 
plan 
that 
places heavy 
emphasis 
on 
taking 
too 
many 
hormones. 
Here’s 
the 
money quote, 
from 
one doctor: 
“Oprah 
is the
 most
 influential
 woman
 in
 the
 world,
 and
 I
 don’t
 think
 she comprehends
 the
 amount
 of
 damage
 she
 has
 done
 to
 women’s
 health.”

In
 summing
 up
 their
 argument, Pat
 and
 Barbara
 pointed
 to
 six
 things
 the
 that
 Oprah
 and
 Somers
 did
 wrong:
 They
 downplayed
 the
 risks
 of
 Hormone
 Therapy.
 They
 failed
 to
 discuss
 cancer.
 Meanwhile,
 they
 encouraged
 a
 false
 fountain
 of
 youth.
 The
 television
 show
 prescribed
 a
 one‐treatment‐fits‐all
 philosophy,
 while
 blaming
 menopause
 for
 everything
 a
 woman
 may
 be
 going
 through.
 Overall,
 they
 say
 the episode
 lacked
 clarity
 when
 discussing
 the
 issue.

Many
 readers
 agreed, asking: “Why is
 Suzanne
 Somers
 on
 stage
 being
 lauded
 as
 an
 expert
 as
 the
 doctors
 sitting
 in
 the
 front
 row
 added
 very
 little
 to
 the  conversation?”

But 
much 
of 
the 
commentary
 completely
 dismissed
 our
 two
 writers.
 “Talking
 with
 Kantrowitz
 and
 Wingert
 about
 [hormone
 replacement
 therapy]
 is
 like
 talking
 to
 a
 Republican
 senator
 about
 the
 economic
 stimulus
 plan,”
 wrote
 one
 snarky
 reader.

Others
 argued
 that
 many
 mainstream
 doctors
 support
 excessive
 HRT, and
 that
 our
 two
 writers
 present
 a
 completely
 one‐sided
 argument.

That’s
 the
 start
 of
 what’s
 developed
 into
 a
 series
 of
 offensive
 comments,
 which
 have culminated
 in
 accusing
 the
 writers
 of
 being
 on
 the
 take
 from
 drug
 companies.
 “The article’s
 authors
 were
 clearly
 coached
 and
 prompted
 by
 the
 pharmaceutical industry to
 sing
 its
 song‐and‐dance
 routine
 to
 attack
 anything
 that
 threatens
 their
 bottom
 line,”
 suggested
 one
 reader.
 “I’m shocked
 that
 Newsweek
 would
 allow
 its
 editorial  integrity
 to
 be
 so
 transparently
 hijacked
by
 these
 phonies
 who
 are
 doing
 nothing
 but
 parroting
 the
 drug
 companies’
 script,
 practically
 word
 for
 word.”

Given
 those
 strong
 –
 and
 untrue
 –
 accusations,  I
 asked
 my
 colleagues
 to
 put
 together
 a
 response
 to
 the
 piece,
 clarifying
 their
 points
 about
 Hormone
 Replacement
 Therapy.

Here
 is
 what
 Pat
 submitted:

We
 appreciate
 the
 fact
 that
 this
 story
 has
 generated
 a
 lively
 discussion
 among
 readers
 but
 would
 like
 to
 offer
 a
 couple
 of
 clarifications.
 Some
 commenters
 have
 attempted
 to
 explain
 away
 the
 concerns
 we
 raised
 about
 the
 safety
 of
 compounding‐pharmacy‐produced
 bio‐identical
 hormones
 by
 accusing
 us
 (and/or
 Newsweek)  of being
 on
 the
 take
 to
 pharmaceutical
 companies.

These
 accusations
 are
 not
 only
 offensive
 but
 absolutely
 not
 true,
 and
 we
 hope
 readers
 are
 skeptical
 enough
 to
 note
 that
 not
 one
 of
 these
 posters
 has
 offered
 a
 shred
 of
 evidence
 to
 prove
 their
 point.
 The
 magazine
 accepts
 advertisements
 from
 a
 wide
 variety
 of
 legitimate
 businesses,
 including
 drug
 companies,
 but
 in
 the
 more
 than
 20
 years
 Barbara
 and
 I
 have
 worked
 for
 Newsweek,
 we
 have
 never
 been
 asked
 to
 slant
 our
 reporting
 or
 writing
 to
 benefit
 an
 advertiser.
 Our
advertising
 and
 editorial
 departments
 have
 always
 been
 separate
 and
 independent.





Secondly, there
 seems
 to
 be
 a
 lot
 of
 confusion
 about
 what
 constitutes
 a
 “natural”
 hormone.
 Natural
 hormones
 are
 those
 produced
 by
 the
 human
 body.
 Period.
 Any
 other
 type
 of
 hormone
 product, including
 those
 used
 in
 hormone
 creams,
 sprays,
 rings,
 pills
 and
 patches,
 are
 synthesized
 from
 plants
 or
 animal
 products.
 That
 means
 they
 are
 all
 synthetics,
 even
 if
 they
 are
 chemically
 identical
 to
 those
 produced
 by
 the  human
 body.





Those
 who
 insist
 that
 all
 hormones
 made
 by
 drug
 companies
 are
 “synthetics”
 and
 those
 produced
 by
 compounding
 pharmacies
 are
 “natural”
 are
 creating
 a
 false  distinction.
 The
 same
 can
 be
 said
 about
 presumed
 risk.
 Since
 all
 these
 products
 have
 similar
 effects
 on
 the
 body,
 the
 presumption
 by
 the
 scientific
 community
 is
 that
 they
 likely
 all
 have
 the
 same
 risks,
 unless
 proof
 emerges
 to
 the
 contrary.
 So
 far,
 we
 don’t have
 that
 proof.





And
 finally, about
 the
 advantage
 of
 FDA
 regulation: No
 one
 thinks
that
 the
 FDA
 does
 a
 perfect
 job,
 and
 we
 all
 know
 that
 they
 have
 made 
mistakes.
 But
 there’s
 no
 doubt
 that
 the
 FDA
 safety
 and
 efficacy
 testing
 saves
 many
 lives
 every
 year.

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