(NaturalNews) Despite lack of evidence that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs could reduce the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women, potentially millions of women were given the drugs to reduce these risks during the 1990s, according to a study conducted by researchers from Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and published in the American Journal of Public Health.
HRT drugs were approved for reducing the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings. They became widely popular, with 11 million women between the ages of 45 and 74 using them by 1999. Although no evidence ever linked them to a lowered risk of heart disease, lawsuits allege that pharmaceutical companies covertly marketed them for this purpose.
In 2002, the Women's Health Initiative study found that the drugs significantly increased women's risk of dying from heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. Since then, research has also linked the drugs to breast cancer and dementia. Use of the drugs fell to six million by 2003.
In the new study, researchers examined the medical records of New York City women who had been taking HRT drugs prior to the release of the Women's Health Initiative findings. They found that after the release of the study, use of the drugs fell 70 percent among women with heart disease and 50 percent among those with two or more cardiovascular risk factors, but only 15 percent among those with one or no risk factors. Similarly, the proportion of women with heart disease who were taking HRT drugs fell from 28 percent in 199 to 8 percent in 2003. The proportion among those with one or no risk factors fell as well, but only from 20 to 17 percent.
According to the researchers, the data suggest that HRT was probably being used to prevent heart disease, "a therapy that was never proven for this indication and ultimately found to be ineffective."