Hormone Redux

In the interest of collegiality, we're not going to name names, but what is it with journalists and hormones?

No, I mean the kind that women take to relieve symptoms of menopause and that they were not-so-long-ago told to take to prevent heart disease. The prevention possibilities are zero, according to studies going back a decade. But hope springs eternal that at least estrogen and progestin (the standard duo for most women) don't raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer or anything else that can kill you, since that would be a steep price to pay for relief from hot flashes.

The latest update from the Women's Health Initiative has been greeted in some quarters like (it being Easter weekend and all) the Second Coming. The WHI, you'll recall, is a massive study that in 2002 concluded that hormone therapy raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer so significantly that the study was halted; women taking the pills had such an elevated risk of heart attacks that it was unethical to keep going. Now the WHI has found "after analyzing the statistics by the women's ages "that hormone therapy does not raise the risk of heart disease among women who begin using it right around menopause, usually their 50s, rather than in their 60s or even 70s.

Good. Yet headlines about reassurance and redemption might puzzle anyone who reads deep into the stories, or who peruses the study itself (in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association). For the analysis confirms the earlier conclusions that "hormone therapy increases the risk of stroke and this risk does not appear to be influenced by age or time since menopause" "in other words, start hormones when you're 51 or 77, you'll raise your risk of having a stroke by 77 percent "and "e