The largest study that has ever been done on women, from the Women’s Health Initiative, produced some major health lessons and recommendations for living a healthier life.
Up to now, the majority of scientific research has been conducted on white men, making it pretty difficult to know how to treat conditions affecting other populations, especially women.
Here’s an example:
Long-term use of the hormones estrogen and progestin have been prescribed by doctors for years. They seemed to help women manage uncomfortable symptoms during and after menopause…
- The thinking was that it “helped them feel better.”
So, the National Institutes of Health launched the largest study ever focused exclusively on women. They called it the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
➡ The research project recruited 68,132 postmenopausal women to participate.
➡ They were divided into groups, some took just estrogen, some took both estrogen and progestin and the rest took placebos, a harmless pill with no therapeutic effect, usually prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect.
After monitoring these women over a ten year period, the researchers stopped the trials early, in 2002 and 2004, because it became very clear that hormones posed serious health risks to the women.
However, the researchers have continued to follow up with these women and have tested several other interventions on the group such as Low-Fat diets and taking Vitamin D and Calcium supplements.
This body of research is now accessible to other researchers as well, so we’re looking for great strides to be made in the management of medications prescribed to women.
The results have led to better treatment and care for millions of women, decreasing healthcare spending and increasing their quality of life.
Here are some of the most important findings from these studies:
1. Long-term use of estrogen and progestin increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots.
While these results have caused doctors to reconsider or stop prescribing long-term hormone replacement, women are encouraged to make a personal decision based on their own risk factors.
For example, if a woman has a very low family history of breast cancer and heart disease, but a high risk of colon cancer and osteoporosis, she may choose to take the hormones.
➡ These hormones are believed to be safe when prescribed for just a short time around menopause, to manage symptoms.
➡ The data also revealed that they may also extend the life expectancy for women who have had hysterectomies, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your specific needs.
2. Low-fat diets are good, but not enough to reduce your risk of some cancers or heart disease.
The researchers asked some of the participants to eat a low-fat diet and then compared how this affected their risk of various diseases.
The results, published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association, found that a low-fat diet alone was not enough to significantly impact women’s risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer.
You know what’s coming next:
The researchers concluded that more dramatic lifestyle changes, including increased exercise, are necessary to lower the risk of developing these diseases.
3. Taking vitamin D and calcium may not be worth it.
Some of the women in the study were given calcium and vitamin D supplements, while others were not.
➡ Neither did taking the supplements lower the risk of colorectal cancer. They did, however, increase the risk of kidney stones.
4. Ditch diet soda.
➡ The WHI research showed that menopausal women who reported drinking two or more diet sodas per day had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems, and of course, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners. (Read about it here).
5. If you’re at high risk for *melanoma, aspirin might help.
*Melanoma is a new or unusual growth in an existing mole.
➡ If recognized and treated early, melanoma is almost always curable, but if it’s not, cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, becoming hard to treat and potentially fatal.
Researchers analyzed the data from the WHI observational study and found that women who took aspirin regularly had a 20 percent lower risk of melanoma than women who didn’t.
The correlation was strong — the longer the women took aspirin, the lower their risk.
Aspirin comes with its own benefits and drawbacks, however, so talk to your doctor before adding it to your routine. click on this link for more information from Mayo Clinic about the potential effects of aspirin, even in low doses.