Dangerous Self Interest – the Divas of Bio-identical Hormones

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 11:23am
I was home one day this week, and was watching something we’d recorded on the DVR. When it was over, the DVR switched off and the TV went to reg. broadcast. It was Oprah, talking to Suzanne Summers. You remember Suzanne Summers — the blond roommate of Three’s Company with John Ritter?

So here’s the setup. Oprah’s almost 60. She lost a bunch of weight, several times, and now she’s gained it back again. With a cook, a trainer, a gym, and a TV camera staring at her 180 days a year — she still gained it back. Then, once her photographers and dressmakers and wardrobe people couldn’t hide it from her any longer — she found out she’d gained it all back and she did a Jerry Falwell-like weeping confession on national TV. As if there were anyone in America who hadn’t noticed during all that 2008 election coverage.

Even CNN carried her confession. How embarrassing.

So now (evidently) she’s willing to do just about anything to get her 40-year-old figure back. Including following in Suzanne Summers’ dubious stiletto footsteps.

I first heard about what SS was doing about 3 years ago, following what was either her first or second round of breast cancer. She was making the talk-show circuit telling the world about her miracle fountain of youth — bio-identical hormones. She rubs an estrogen cream on the inside of each upper arm (same effect as a patch…) every day. 14 days a month, she rubs progesterone on her other arm, She also does several other hormones as part of this topical cocktail — and takes over 60 (!) pill-form supplements a day. Oh — and she eats a diet of organic fruits and veggies.

And at 62 — voila! She feels so good (between bouts of breast cancer) that she’s written a book!

And she evidently spends her leisure time speaking to women’s groups about this miracle. How she’s escaped the insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, dry skin etc of menopause, by keeping her hormone levels equal to that of her younger body. How “bio-identical hormones have saved her marriage, How women shouldn’t blame men when they get tired of the grumpy, fat, rough-skinned, no-sex-drive women they’re married to — of course they’re going to start looking for a newer model!

And I don’t much care, really, if she wants to use herself as a lab rat. As actresses go, it won’t be that great a loss.

What I do care about is that poor Oprah — desperate to regain her “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” body is now giving SS a national microphone — THE national microphone — and the OPRAH seal of approval.

We’ve seen how previously unknown books become #1 best-sellers based on Oprah’s recommendation. Now, it’s SS’s book. And while the Big O dutifully had 1 real doctor in the house the day I saw the show — trying to inject real statistics and real medical concerns over SS’s highway to longer, happier, sexier, thinner life — she was given short shrift — and only allowed the microphone as an audience member — not as part of a real discussion on stage.

In her few brief moments on camera, the doctor did say:
1. “bio-identical hormones” is a made up term. These hormones are synthetically produced from plant extracts in Europe at the same (the ONLY) factory as all other hormones produced for women. In fact, they are the same product.

2. “Bio-identical hormones”‘s claim to fame is that a doctor matches the exact amount of each hormone to each woman — and the woman then takes those prescriptions to a “formulating pharmacist” (a pharmacist who mixes special dosages by hand like a chemist without a degree in chemistry, or a chef, following a pharmaceutical recipe) and then combines them with creams, makes them into pre-loaded syringes, fills capsules, or makes them into suppositories for his/her customer.

3. Health insurance does not cover anything called “bio-identical hormones.”

4. There are pharmacists/pharmacies who do nothing but produce these “bio-identical hormones.”

5. Because “B IHs” are not produced by drug companies under the scrutiny of the FDA, physicians and pharmacists can make any claim they like about their effects, side effects, or usage — without regulation of any kind.

6. “BIHs” carry the same effects as any other hormone therapy. Including all the concerns about breast, uterine, and cervical cancers, blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.

In response to all these facts, Oprah sad, “Thank you, Doctor.” And then went back to calling SS a “ground breaking pioneer” in women’s health and quality of life. In fact, I lost count of the number of times Oprah or SS said things like, “we’re not just talking about health, here — we’re talking about a woman’s quality of life!” and “it’s about having that energy — that vigor…”

I understand about Oprah’s concern over having gained back weight she’d lost so publicly. It’s always public unless you’re a hermit. She just happens to be a lot more public than most. Her and Bill Clinton. But I also know how powerful her microphone is. She is in many ways the voice of the female collective unconscious in this country. And the African-American collective unconscious. And the stay-at-home-mom/dad collective unconscious. and probably a few more — since I don’t generally see her but 2-3 times a year, I’m probably a little behind.

And I know that what I saw the other day was a woman desperate for a solution, giving her emotional support and stamp of approval to an idea and a medical treatment that is at best snake oil, and at worst — dangerous and even deadly.

The last 2 years have been the first to see a decline in women’s cancers, and it is generally agreed that this is a direct result of the overwhelming rejection of hormone replacement therapy as the preferred treatment for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and insomnia.

If SS doesn’t get hot flashes because of her miracle treatment — okay. I get a few each month and they’re over soon.

If SS sleeps 8-9 hrs per night — okay. So do I. Sometimes it takes a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream — but I’ll suffer through it, This is where a lifetime of 1 drink a month moderation pays off. A thimble full of alcohol still puts me to sleep like a velvet hammer,

Dry skin? Aveeno. Avon, Clinique. Earth Therapeutics.

Mood swings? The Marx Brothers. Warner Bros. cartoons, Third Rock From The Sun. Three Stooges. Harrison Ford. Cary Grant. Steven Spielberg. Alfred Hitchcock. All in a handy compact disk format that can play in the corner of the computer monitor where I am now typing, And if that doesn’t work, There’s always a bicycle in the front hall, a Bloody Mary in the bar, or a nap in a lounge chair. Or an blog to rant on.

Low sex drive? (mind your own business….)

Weight gain? I’ve lost or gained weight every day of my life since my parents first put me on diet pills back in junior hi. If you don’t like my round body — that’s fine, as long as you don’t bitch at me. I’ve probably lost 2K in my life — and I’ve gained about 2K+10. I lose it, then I gain it back pus a few more. over and over and over. Just like our friend Oprah. The big difference is that I heard what SS actually said about her “B I H”s — she doesn’t have any more problems with weight gain — just like when she was younger. So guess what — if you DID always have problems with weight when you were younger — YOU STILL WILL!

And you get the breast cancer as a bonus.

Oprah should stick to teaching people to be thankful and generous, and leave medicine to medical professionals.

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