Hormone therapy

The search for the secret of staying young is as old as the fear of ageing itself and many weird and wonderful treatments have been tried in the hope of finding a way to avoid the adverse effects of the passing vears. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one relatively recent approach which has some real scientific basis. Primarily it is prescribed to minimize unpleasant ‘change of life’ symptoms, but there does seem to be evidence that it also postpones some of the general effects of ageing in women. Most doctors would stress, however, that HRT should not be taken casually, and any woman being treated with hormones has to have regular medical check-ups. –

It is now over 40 years since it was discovered that the ovaries, as well as producing eggs, secrete certain hormones which affect many different body functions.

From puberty to the menopause a woman’s body is used to the repeated rise and fall of hormone levels. When an egg follicle is developing, it secretes this helps to prepare the lining of the womb for a fertilized egg, but it also influences many other functions, such as clotting mechanisms, fat and calcium metabolism, the skin and mucus membranes and bladder function. After the release of the egg, the burst follicle starts to secrete and some further oestrogen.

When a woman’s periods stop, so does this regular production of ovarian hormones. The average age for a woman to have her last period is 50 years, but this varies a lot from one individual to another. The final period is usually preceded by months, or even years, of irregular cycles and therefore fluctuating hormone levels.

These facts about the decrease in hormone production in the menopause led doctors to look at how replacing the secretions of the ovaries might delay the effects of ageing. HRT was first used in the USA 35 years ago – it was slow to gain in popularity elsewhere, but there has been a gradual increase over the last 10 years. In the UK, the whole concept of this treatment has become much more ‘respectable’.