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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.