Personal Health

Dark Secrets Behind Big Pharma's Renewed Push of Estrogen Supplement

HRT is unhealthy for humans and cruel to the animals abused in its production.

Photo Credit: Voyagerix / Shutterstock

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has twice been proven to cause cancer—once in 1975 and again in 2002. But you can't expect Pharma to give up on a medication that 61 million women took until recently and that brought in $2 billion a year. Already articles promoting the dubious therapy are reappearing.

HRT became a rite of passage for most U.S. women, thanks to offensive sexist, ageist advertising. One ad for Premarin shows a bus driver with the caption, "He is suffering from estrogen deficiency." The next frame with a woman has the caption, "She is the reason why." Ladies—don't let your health problems irritate men!

The ad is similar to a sleeping pill ad showing a couple in bed with the copy, "She has insomnia, so he's awake... how can this shrew be tamed?"

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Today's label for Premarin vaginal cream, from Wyeth/Pfizer, admits HRT's links to "endometrial cancer, cardiovascular disorders, breast cancer and probable dementia" and "stroke and deep vein thrombosis.”

It does omit, however, where Premarin comes from.

HRT’s Animal Toll

Mares are purpose-bred to produce the estrogen-rich urine used to make Premarin (which is called a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization). "The resulting foals become unwanted byproducts and typically sold off at auction where they are in danger of being bought by 'meat men' working on behalf of slaughterhouses," says Tuesday's Horse. "Mares who can no longer become pregnant are also routinely cast off by the industry and exposed to the risk of slaughter."

Abused mares and foals are not the only animal cruelty associated with HRT. Research on primates has steadily been conducted at Wake Forest, Mount Sinai and other medical centers despite fundamental questions about HRT safety and whether primates are even appropriate models.

In one experiment, Wake Forest’s Thomas Clarkson, DVM, and others removed the ovaries of four adult female cynomolgus monkeys after treating the animals with a drug that causes ovarian failure for 27 days.

In another experiment called “Social Deprivation and Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis in Female Cynomolgus Monkeys,” Clarkson and others kept primates in stark isolation and chronicled their health decline. Just good science. The research is reminiscent of macabre experiments conducted by Harry Harlow, known for cruel maternal-separation and social isolation experiments on monkeys and putting infants into the "pit of despair."

In other research at Wake Forest, funded with our tax dollars, monkeys donated by Clarkson were restrained and killed, their brains examined, for the pressing world "disease" of menopause.

You don’t have to be against animal research to see the banality in treating “menopausal” primates with pregnant mare urine to create drugs already proven to give women cancer for the disease of “menopause"—which is not a disease at all.

Clarkson, who has served on the Solvay Women’s Health Advisory Board and Wyeth Speaker’s Bureau, lamented the exodus of women from HRT in 2003 out of cancer and heart fears. Dropping out of HRT "could have an adverse effect on the extent and severity of cardiovascular disease in the population,” he said, disregarding the "stroke and deep vein thrombosis" risks Wyeth/Pfizer now acknowledge on their labels.

Pharma Paid Doctors Given a Pass by Mainstream Press

Pharma-paid commercials for HRT have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times and other respected publications. The Post in 2009 reprinted a pro-HRT article from the Massachusetts General Hospital website where it had run on the same page with an article by Wyeth-funded researchers.

The New York Times magazine ran a pro-HRT piece the following year, "The Estrogen Dilemma," by Cynthia Gorney, which quoted five estrogen “experts” without mentioning their financial links to Wyeth. Who were the experts? Claudio Soares, Louann Brizendine and Clarkson (mentioned above), who have served on Wyeth’s speaker boards; Sanjay Asthana who has performed Wyeth-funded research and Roberta Diaz Brinton who has “previously consulted for Wyeth Research” according to the journal Endocrinology. (July 2009, 150(7):3186 -3196)

When I appeared on CSPAN in 2012, my interviewer, Stephanie Beasley, read on camera a letter from Gorney who happened to have been her journalism professor at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, addressing my charges. In the letter, Gorney admits the omissions but pleads that she had suffered from disorganization and deadline pressures when writing the piece.

It was a shocking and unprofessional admission. All journalists suffer from deadline pressure—that is pretty much the definition of what we do. No reputable journalist—or professor—would use that excuse to omit financial disclosures basic to a story. Despite four letters pointing out the conflicts of interest, the Times never corrected the story. In light of Rolling Stone's fictitious rape story, "The Estrogen Dilemma" might have even been eligible for retraction.

In the last few years, Pharma has become a detested industry thanks to its price gouging, payola to doctors, hiding of drug risks, and its desire, in some cases, to move overseas to duck U.S. taxes (while living off taxpayer-supported Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, etc.). The marketing of HRT is one of Pharma's most scandalous chapters, yet it is likely to return as Pharma concludes the public has largely forgotten its con.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Random House)."