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November 2001 Issue
The Postmenopausal Hormone Questions: Whether, which, when, how long?
by Michael Fick
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A sweeping recommendation? It's a sweeping study! In 1976, thousands of female nurses signed up to log their habits and health for the foreseeable future. The number of nurses (120,000 of them are still reporting data in depth), the number of years (25 and counting), and the subjects' conscientious participation (they're still contributing blood and tissue samples for medical analysis) have positioned this study right up there with the Framingham Heart Study in overall health study credibility, and as the gold standard in women's health studies. This book lays out how their habits are affecting them, and thus how your habits are likely to affect you. These data could potentially be as important as aspirin or penicillin, in my unqualified and simplistic guess, if every female made simple lifestyle changes based on the lessons of this study. 70-90% of the cases of women's most common fatal or debilitating diseases - including heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer -- could be prevented by healthier lifestyles. This would extend not only women's lives, but also their vitality during those longer lives.

Many other books address the postmenopausal hormone issue in greater depth, but the others don't also address a dozen other major women's health issues with such authority, simply because they are not based on such a large, lengthy, detailed study. This study and this book provide a solid knowledge base from which you can expand and evaluate your reading into specialized books on the individual topics most pertinent to your own circumstances.

The study is the Nurses' Health Study, the book is "Healthy Women, Healthy Lives" by Harvard Medical School, and every bookstore should have it now. At $26 ($18.20 if you purchase it through Seasoned Cooking), it's downright cheap considering its wealth of authoritative, current, applicable, statistically significant data and discussions. The first three chapters discuss the nature of the study and how to interpret its results. The next eleven chapters cover eleven specific diseases - such as diabetes, heart disease, and various types of cancer -- in a consistent format addressing risks, factors we can and cannot control, bottom lines, and steps we can take to lower our risks. The last ten chapters discuss behaviors - exercise, nutrition, smoking, birth control, alcohol consumption, etc. - including benefits, risks, bottom lines, and recommended lifestyle changes. These topics sound familiar; what's new is that the advice here is based on a huge volume of facts, not some guru's latest book-selling mantras or "mere" accepted medical theories. The toughest chapter is the one on interpreting risk statistics, Chapter 3. It can be glossed over if necessary for young readers.

Medical science has extended women's expected life span by 30 years in the last century, and whether they truly enjoy, or merely survive, those years is increasingly within their control. The process of strongly influencing the number and quality of those extra years begins before we become adolescents, especially in decisions such as nutrition, weight control, exercise, smoking, and drug use. Such life-threatening and quality-of-life-threatening problems as heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer can be rooted in childhood habits, yet it's almost never too late to make life-improving changes.

Do yourself and your family a huge service: buy, study, and heed this book. It could easily add decades of health and vitality to your family's lives.

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