In the past few months, I have come across some fascinating studies in women's health that I thought would be important to share with you.
In this article, I'm going to tell you about two studies—one that addresses the link between HRT and lung cancer death, and another that talks about the role of diet in preventing age-related macular degeneration.
We already know that smoking is one of the most dangerous lifestyle habits that someone can have. We also know that conventional HRT has been associated with an increased risk of a number of dangerous health conditions, including breast cancer (as I mentioned in this month's lead article).
But when you put the two together, the health risks can be downright scary.
At a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, it was reported that, based on a secondary analysis from the 2002 Women's Health Initiative—a huge, 15-year study of post-menopausal health issues—women who smoked and also used HRT (estrogen plus progestin) for more than five years increased their risk of dying from non-small cell lung cancer.
The risk was highest in current smokers, but former smokers also had an elevated risk.
Both the test and control groups were divided into three groups—those who never smoked (50 percent), former smokers (40 percent), and current smokers (10 percent). Among the 96 women in the test group who were diagnosed with lung cancer, 67 died.
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Of those 67 deaths, 27 (out of 800 total) were current smokers; 9 (out of 4,178 total) were nonsmokers; and 29 (out of 3,362 total) were former smokers.
In the control group, 39 of the 72 women diagnosed with lung cancer died of the disease.
Of those 39 deaths, 19 (out of 838 total) were current smokers; 5 (out of 3,999 total) were nonsmokers; and 15 (out of 3,157 total) were former smokers. Researchers stressed the importance of women who are taking HRT to quit smoking.
My View: I've made no secret of my negative feelings for conventional HRT.
The Women's Health Initiative study has shown that rather than protecting women, taking conventional HRT such as PremPro for five years or longer significantly increases the risk for blood clots, coronary heart disease, strokes, breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and stress incontinence.
And now, we can add death from lung cancer to that list.
I've long recommended that women choose physicians who will take the time to work closely with them to determine the best course of action to reduce their menopause symptoms.
Part of that discussion should include a review of the patient's smoking history. And in my practice, only if truly necessary, I prescribed a gentle, custom-designed treatment regimen made of bioidentical hormones—physiologically in sync with a woman's body, appropriate for her needs, and adjusted as her needs naturally change over time.
If you're a current or former smoker and you're using HRT, I recommend that you have a serious discussion with your physician about getting off of them.
There are a number of safe, natural, hormone-free options to relieve menopause symptoms, including black cohosh, omega-3 fatty acids, and the hormone support supplement you can find from Dr. Tobias).
You can also try herbs that are used in ancient medical disciplines like Traditional Chinese Medicine. Check the herbs I recommend in my herbal book: Healthy Natural Estrogens: Herbs, Plants, Foods, Vitamins, Minerals and Bioidentical Hormones for Amazing Health, Balance and Anti-Aging.
In addition, it goes without saying that you should take whatever steps necessary to quit smoking right away.
According to an analysis of eight years of data from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, researchers have concluded that taking antioxidants (specifically vitamins C and E) and zinc, as well as supplemental omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) can protect against the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
They also determined that DHA, even taken alone, was associated with a decrease in the progression of early AMD and a reduced risk of developing the disease.
These findings are so important because there is no cure for AMD, so the only things you can do are prevent it or delay its advancement.
Researchers studied 2,924 individuals in the early stages of AMD and divided them into four groups: placebo, antioxidants, zinc, and antioxidants plus zinc.
The test groups received 5 times the daily recommended allowance of zinc, 6 times the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C, and 18 times the recommended daily allowance vitamin E.
Additionally, researchers found that participants who consumed 64 mg a day or more of DHA, and 42 mg a day or more of EPA, and also followed a low glycemic index diet, had the lowest risk of AMD.
My View: AMD—which blinds 28 percent of all Americans over the age of 75—results from oxidative damage to the macula. So, it makes sense that loading up on antioxidants—which gobble up free radicals—can prevent AMD and other eye diseases.
Your eyes have a built-in defense system against oxidative damage, which includes vitamins C and E, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin—the only carotenoids found inside human eye lenses. However, sun exposure can overwhelm that built-in defense system.
If, on top of sun exposure, your levels of those eye-protective nutrients are low, the result is an almost 400 percent increase in your risk for AMD (October 2008, Archives of Ophthalmology).
To help prevent that, wear sunglasses, even when it's overcast. The inside of the eye is even more vulnerable on an overcast day than on a sunny day because ultraviolet radiation pours in through wide-open, dilated pupils.
You want to find a pair that will block 100 percent of UVR and can be made with prescription lenses. Also, in addition to taking mineral-buffered vitamin C (500-1,000 mg twice daily) and natural vitamin E (400-2,000 IU daily), I recommend the following eye-protective nutrients: lutein (7.5 mg daily); zeaxanthin (1.5 mg daily); quercetin (500 mg twice daily); selenium (50-200 mcg daily); and folic acid (800 mcg daily).
Finally, be sure to get sufficient omega-3s in your diet by eating two to three servings of DHA-rich fish (like salmon, tuna, or mackerel) every week, or taking at least 1,000 mg of fish oil a day.
If you prefer a vegetarian source of omega-3s, consume 4-6 tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day.
PS: Look out for my new eating program and cookbook The Divine High Alkaline Cookbook with recipes and pictures for a more low acid diet in major e-retailers.
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