When the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly asked me to write about menopause, I hesitated. Menopause was something I was vaguely aware of, of course—having heard about the aggravating symptoms from my mom, aunt, and older women friends—but it was a subject I kept at a distance, like cancer or the conflict in Libya. But then I realized it'd be an opportunity for me to get to the bottom of all the confusion surrounding hormones (once known as HRT, now referred to by the North American Menopause Society as HT). It would also let me interview a dozen really smart alumnae gynecologists.
I learned a lot reporting the resulting article which ran in the summer Quarterly. It turns out that the results of the famous Women's Health Initiative study should be taken with a grain of salt. The women in the estrogen-progestin trial had already gone through menopause when they started taking hormones—their average age was sixty-three. This, not the fact that they were taking hormones, may account for the increased risk of heart disease found during the study. Even the North American Menopause Society has said that it's safe for women to take a estrogen-progestin combo as long as you do it within ten years of menopause (because of the lower heart disease risk) and as long as you don't take it for more than five years (because of an increased risk of breast cancer). Read more of what I discovered—including integrative therapies like acupuncture and black cohosh that can help with hot flashes—here.