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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/2/11

Wyeth and the Multibillion Dollar Menopause Industry

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I have written previously (http://www.opednews.com/articles/Marketing-Serotonin-Defici-by-Dr-Stuart-Jeanne-B-100713-513.html) about the ingenious -- and deadly -- strategy by pharmaceutical companies of inventing fictitious illnesses to market highly profitable drugs that allegedly "treat" them. The technical terms for this are "medicalizing" or "disease mongering." Dr Marcia Angell, in her 2004 The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It, also talks about "generalized anxiety disorder," "erectile dysfunction," "premenstrual dysphoric disorder," and "gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder (heartburn)" as examples of common complaints that drug companies have reinvented as chronic illnesses requiring lifelong treatment (see http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/171/12/1451).

Estrogen Deficiency Syndrome

The marketing of so-called "estrogen deficiency syndrome," which is known as "menopause" in English-speaking countries (other cultures have no word for it) and "hormone replacement therapy (HRT)" has been far more lethal, in view of 30 years of research linking it to reproductive cancers. The number of premature deaths linked to HRT is estimated in the millions. In this case the culprit is a single company, Wyeth, which manufactures Premarin (conjugated estrogens extracted from pregnant mare urine) and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and a second female hormone progesterone.

Although the medical community (and Wyeth) have been aware of links between estrogen replacement and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer since the 1970s, the research was effectively concealed from public view -- until the frightening results of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study hit the front page in 2002. Between 1993 and 1995, the National Institutes of Health enrolled 161,809 women in the double blind WHI study. In 2002 the NHI shut down the study, originally scheduled to finish in 2005, when it became clear that the women taking HRT were experiencing a 26% increase in breast cancer (with the risk doubling after five years), a 41% increase in strokes and a 29% increase in heart disease (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/).

Estrogen, a hormone regulating the development and function of the female reproductive system, was first discovered in 1925. In the 1930s, the drug company Wyeth developed a process (viewed as barbaric by animal rights activists) to extract conjugated estrogens from the urine of pregnant mares. They patented their product as the drug Premarin (PREgnantMAresurINe), which first appeared on the market in 1942.

From the beginning Wyeth marketed Premarin, not for temporary relief of menopausal symptoms, but as a lifelong treatment to help all women maintain "healthy" estrogen levels in later life. Obviously this is nonsense, as a "healthy" or natural estrogen level in a post-menopausal woman is virtually zero.

1975: the First Study Linking Premarin with Cancer

The first study linking Premarin with increased uterine cancer appeared in 1975. It was replicated by other researchers in 1977 and 1979. These results were entirely consistent with the discovery of estrogen receptors in the early seventies and the finding that stimulating these receptors caused tumor growth in tissue culture and laboratory animals.

Wyeth responded to these worrisome studies by promoting a small 1980 study that taking progesterone, a second female hormone, reduced the risk of uterine cancer with estrogen replacement. Unfortunately most doctors fell for Wyeth's slick PR campaign (the free pens, watches, clocks, lunches, trips to overseas conferences may have had something to do with it). They somehow overlooked the failure of 1980 study to look at the cancer rates in women who took no hormone replacement or to study the possible role of this combination in inducing other hormone sensitive cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, their success in selling doctors on the combination, led Wyeth to launch Prempro in 1995, which combined Premarin with progesterone.

The earliest studies linking Premarin with breast cancer appeared in early 1980. As Nik Ismail points out in "Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gynaecological Cancers," between 1975 and 1995, there were at least fifty studies linking estrogen replacement (also known as HRT) with breast and uterine cancer. Some were cross cultural studies revealing American women had more than ten times the incidence of breast cancer than Asian women, who don't take estrogen replacement (see http://www.gfmer.ch/Books/bookmp/113.htm).

The Multibillion Dollar Wyeth Cover-up

Wyeth responded to the breast cancer studies with a new PR blitz. In addition to flooding doctors' offices with literature claiming studies linking Premarin to cancer were "contradictory," they promoted numerous company-funded studies allegedly showing that estrogen replacement prevents osteoporosis and hip fractures, dementia and heart disease. The spin Wyeth gave doctors was that the effect of reducing cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes) -- the most common cause of death in Americans -- outweighed the somewhat lower risk of developing breast cancer. Ultimately the claim that Premarin and Prempro reduce elderly women;s risk of cardiovascular disease proved to be false. In fact this was one of the main reasons the WHI study was stopped: the women in the Premarin/Prempro arm of the study were developing significantly more heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

The role of estrogen replacement in reducing osteoporosis was supported by the WHI and other studies. However thus far, no studies have controlled for long term fluoride ingestion or epidemic Vitamin D deficiency in elderly Americans -- which both have a documented role in high US rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture.

The marketing blitz aimed at doctors was accompanied by an even more powerful PR campaign in Harper's Bazaar, the Ladies Home Journal and other women's magazines, appealing to American women's (largely manufactured) terror of aging by emphasizing the value of estrogen replacement in preserving sexual attractiveness by preventing the skin changes and vaginal drying associated with aging.

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)
 
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