Power Surge News

Issue 52

Power Surge Live!  
Kicks Off The Fall Season of
Guest Chats

Barbara Seaman
Thursday, Sept. 4th

In A Discussion About Her New Book,
The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed On Women:
Exploding The Estrogen Myth

The Greatest Experiment is a wake-up call to women about unquestioningly accepting doctors' orders

A women's health advocate for more than forty years, Barbara Seaman is a national judge of the Project Censored Awards, an advanced science writing Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism, and the co-founder of the National Women's Health Network, a women's advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that refuses money from the drug industry as part of its charter.

A frequent contributor to the New York Times and the Washington
Post, she has been either a columnist or contributing editor at the
following publications: Ms., Omni, Ladies' Home Journal, Bride's, Family
Circle, and Hadassah magazine. She is the author of The Doctors' Case
Against the Pill; For Women Only:Your Guide to Health Empowerment; Free
and Female, Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones;
The Menopause Industry: How The Medical Establishment Exploits Women
and Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. Barbara Seaman lives in New York City.

Five Lucky People At The Chat Will Receive
Free Copies Of "The Greatest Experiment..."

who will field all your questions
September 4th
at 9 PM (ET), 6 PM, (PT)
Power Surge Live!

Read the transcript here 

"If a menopausal woman has pain or makes trouble, pound her hard on the jaw."
                                       --Egyptian medical text, 2000 B.C.

For almost a century women have been taking some form of estrogen to combat the effects of menopause and aging, and more recently to prevent a host of diseases, from osteoporosis to Alzheimer's to heart disease. For most of that hundred years, doctors have been prescribing estrogen in either its organic or synthetic forms, and women have gone to their pharmacists and dutifully filled their prescriptions. In some cases, menopause sufferers
who were experiencing the most extreme symptoms were in search of relief
from hot flashes, night sweats, dryness, and more, but increasingly in
recent years, women began receiving estrogen sometimes with progesterone as"hormone therapy," not because they were in immediate danger of anything but rather as a preventative. But was this regimen warranted? Did doctors know enough about estrogen and its effects to be widely prescribing it for such a range of ailments? Or were women being used as guinea pigs in a great experiment, an experiment the author terms "The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women"?

Since the 1960s, women's health icon Barbara Seaman has been one of the
lone voices in journalism to question whether doctors have sufficient
justification to be writing so many estrogen prescriptions, or whether it
is the pharmaceutical industry that is driving the research, marketing, and
use of hormone replacement therapy. In 2002, several important women's
health studies revealed that estrogen may cause more problems in patients
than it is correcting or preventing, and that in fact it has a dismal
record in terms of prevention.

This groundbreaking book illuminates today's "menopause industry," tracing the history of estrogen use from its early purveyors, including a well-
meaning British doctor who lost control of the marketing of DES and
therefore inadvertently led to the DES baby crisis, to Nazi experimentation
with women and estrogen, to the present, and looks at how an experiment of
this proportion could have been conducted without oversight, intervention,
or real knowledge as to what its effects would be.

"Barbara Seaman is the first prophet of the women's health movement and 
her prophesies are still coming true." --Gloria Steinem

The following is an excerpt from the book
The Greatest Experiment Ever Preformed on Women:
Exploding the Estrogen Myth

by Barbara Seaman

Introduction I: Smart Doctors, Foolish Forecasts

I have a doctor friend who so believed in the value of synthetic estrogens that when the National Institutes of Health announced a large clinical trial to compare these pills with sugar pills, she dismissed it as a waste of money. "Obviously, the women on the hormones will be living longer," she said. "It's unethical to leave volunteers on the placebos for the full eight and a half years of the trial. At some point they'll have to stop the study and offer hormones to everyone."

Her colleagues concurred, but then the opposite came true. On the morning of July 9, 2002, my friend, along with other physicians and the 30 million U.S. patients taking estrogen products, woke up to discover that the world, after all, was flat. A safety-monitoring board had suddenly halted a part of the study involving 16,608 women because those taking hormones had more breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolisms, and blood clots than those taking sugar pills. Yes, the volunteers on Prempro also had fewer bone fractures and less colon cancer. But not enough to balance out the risks.

My friend initially heard the startling results on Good Morning America, where Dr. Tim Johnson described this "somewhat surprising outcome." He predicted that most women then taking hormone pills would stop "after talking to their physicians today," failing to anticipate that many doctors would take their telephones off the hook. My friend switched the channel to CNN, where Paula Zahn repeatedly exclaimed: "I tell you -- women gotta go insane today." Channel surfing, my friend caught up with the "usual suspects," certain doctors familiar to TV viewers whose spin skills had been developed by public-relations coaches at agencies that handle pharmaceutical accounts. It was then that my friend got it. These physicians were appearing on stations where paid ads suggested that if only we took estrogen we could look like Lauren Hutton and sing like Patti LaBelle.

That night my friend called me to apologize for having objected to the title I planned for this book. She had called it "over the top and ridiculous," but now she said she could almost agree.


While the Prempro arm of the Women's Health Initiative, which lasted 5.2 years and included 16,608 women, was a major test, it is only a small part of what I consider to be The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women.

The experiment began in England in 1938, and it has continued for sixty- five years. A British biochemist, desperate to prevent Nazi Germany from cornering the world market on synthetic sex hormones, published his formula for cheap and powerful oral estrogen. Within months, thousands of doctors and scores of drug companies around the world were working with this formula.

That opened the Greatest Experiment. Products made from chemicals that mimicked the feminizing effects of a woman's natural secretions were marketed fresh out of the lab. They were prescribed and sold for a host of concerns -- to slow and prevent aging, to stop hot flashes, to avoid pregnancy or miscarriage, and as a morning-after contraceptive.

I call the marketing, prescribing, and sale of these drugs an experiment because, for all these years, they have been used, in the main, for what doctors and scientists hope or believe they can do, not for what they know the products can do. Medical policy on estrogens has been to "shoot first and apologize later"-- to prescribe the drugs for a certain health problem and then see if there is a positive result. Over the years, hundreds of millions, possibly billions of women, have been lab animals in this unofficial trial. They were not volunteers. They were given no consent forms. And they were put at serious, often devastating risk.

The risks of these drugs have been known and documented from the start. The British doctor who published his estrogen formula in 1938 spent many years thereafter warning the world that these drugs, although containing great promise, put women at serious peril for endometrial and breast cancer.

Since the halting of the Prempro trial in July, despite the ignorance or hypocrisy of many doctors who said "Who knew?," there is nothing surprising in the recent findings. We have known since day one that these drugs posed threats. And since then science has added to, not subtracted from, the list of estrogen's problems.

If doctors and scientists have known these dirty secrets for so long, why is the bad press so recent? That is an essential question right now, and this book seeks to present the answer. Part of the answer lies in the vigorous efforts by drug companies to protect an invaluable market. These efforts have included underwriting studies and subsidizing doctors, participating in medical-school curriculums, advertising heavily in medical journals, and seeing that continuing medical education is directed by doctors on the drug industry's payroll. They have also entailed one of the most elaborate promotion and advertising campaigns in the history of the media not only in America but worldwide.

This is not the first time estrogen sales have felt the cold wind of
consumer anger. In 1975, the magnitude of estrogen-related endometrial cancer was established; drug sales sank by half in subsequent years. In that instance, as in every other that has cast suspicion on estrogen, the drug companies managed to revitalize sales through new claims, which is why I say that only through learning how these companies buy and influence medical opinion can women protect themselves from any new spin, any new claim that will inevitably emerge about these drugs and countless others.

Estrogen products won't go away, and they shouldn't. One can only wish, as I do, that they will be used now with caution, based on evidence and facts, not illusion. My aim is to consider whether hormone supplements are necessary and for whom. Specifically, I hope this book will help women navigate the estrogen issue and keep anything similar from happening again. But the larger hope is that we can make informed decisions about other drugs as well.

On the sixty-fifth birthday of the Greatest Experiment, I recall a poem by William Butler Yeats entitled "The Corning of Wisdom with Time":

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun
Now I may wither into the truth.

Let us hope.


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Also, read Paul Hueseman, PharmD's transcript
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Visit our recommendations page for tips and advice on multi-vitamins and supplements to help ease menopausal symptoms, and improve your overall health.


If you haven't already done so, why not check out our extensive Educate Your Body area. There you will be able to read articles on midlife issues, as well as answers to commonly asked questions such as:

What Is Menopause?
The 34 Signs of Menopause
What's A Hot Flash?
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Why Bioidentical Hormones?
Have High Cholesterol?
Menopause And Your Sex Life
The Benefits of Soy
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