Hormone therapy after menopause lowers women’s cholesterol but may not do as good a job as drugs specifically designed for this.
Hormone replacement is widely prescribed to ease the hot flashes and mood swings of menopause, as well to preserve bone strength.
Studies also show that hormones reduce the risk of heart disease substantially, perhaps cutting it in half. However, there has been little study of the effects of hormone replacement therapy on cholesterol levels.
In a new study, Australian doctors compared a standard combination of estrogen and progestin with one of a relatively new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.
The study found that while both approaches lowered cholesterol, the statin drug appeared to be more effective. Hormones brought down cholesterol 14 percent from a starting point of 305, while the statin reduced it 26 percent.
However, the practical importance of this difference is unclear. Some experts now think that raising high density lipoprotein cholesterol - HDL, the so-called good cholesterol - is more important than bringing down total cholesterol levels. Both treatments raised HDL about 7 percent.
The study was directed by Dr. Giselle M. Darling of the Jean Hailes Foundation in Clayton, Australia. It was published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study involved 58 women who took first one treatment and then the other for two-month periods. During the hormone phase, they took a combination of Provera and Premarin, and the statin drug used was Zocor, known generically as simvastatin.
The researchers concluded that hormone replacement therapy “may be an effective alternative” for older women with unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially those who have normal triglycerides.