You know how you have to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth … so help you God, in a court of law? Well, I don’t think that should be confined to just the courts. I think it should be a requirement for a lot of things, including public announcements about research findings.
Don’t you feel like you get conflicting information every time you hear a report about a research study? One report says Vitamin E is good for you; another says, maybe not. One day, two glasses of red wine prevent disease; the next day they don’t. One guideline tells you to get a mammogram every year; another says every two years.
How in the world are you supposed to know what’s true when you hear non-truths, half-truths, and everything but the truth?
Wouldn’t it be so much better if all research reporting required that you get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
One particular study really brings this other-than-the-truth phenomenon to light. It’s the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), which came out in 2002.
Before 2002, women routinely took hormone replacement therapy (HRT) when they began experiencing the symptoms of menopause at about age 51. Most women would continue taking the hormones for the next ten years, or even indefinitely. The belief at the time was that hormone replacement therapy for menopause replaced a deficiency in female hormones. A “deficiency” is absence of anything the body needs to function normally.
Just as insulin deficiency (diabetes) requires insulin replacement, and thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism) requires thyroid hormone replacement, estrogen deficiency at the time of menopause was viewed as a deficiency state that warrants replacement therapy.
Now, if you have a deficiency state and don’t replace the missing substance, what happens?
You experience a list of about 20 symptoms that make you feel awful. And, eventually, your body breaks down because it lacks something it needed to function properly.
Previous research had shown that, without hormone replacement, women had higher rates of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
So, the WHI set out to discover if taking hormone replacement therapy could prevent these diseases. Now this is a far cry different from using hormone replacement therapy to alleviate the symptoms of menopause … with the added benefit of decreasing your risk for these diseases.
Using hormone replacement therapy to directly, specifically, and primarily prevent these diseases is a whole different story! In other words, that’s using it to do something entirely different from its intended purpose. But, of course, explaining that would constitute telling you the whole truth.
Well, you didn’t hear the whole truth about the purpose of the study. You only heard half the truth.
And that’s not all.
The media report to the public on the results of the study weren’t exactly the truth, either.
Here’s what you heard: Hormone replacement for menopause carries more risks than benefits. For example, in the WHI study, it increased the risk of blood clots 100%. It also increased the risk for strokes, heart attack, and breast cancer.
Before I tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, let me tell you what happened when women heard that media report: They all flushed their hormones down the toilet. They became terrified of taking hormones. Consequently, doctors, seeing the public’s fearful reaction, became unwilling to prescribe hormones. They were concerned about the possibility of litigation that might ensue if a woman developed any of these diseases.
So, in the blink of a single media report about a single research study, women went from taking hormone replacement therapy as a benefit … to condemning hormone replacement therapy as a curse.
Hormone replacement went from being the fountain of youth to being the kiss of death.
So, I ask you: Which is it? What’s the truth? How did something that had been so standard and beneficial become so offensive and risky, just because of one research study?
Here’s how: You heard the non-truth, the half-truth, and everything but the truth.
So, what is the truth?
Non-truths and half-truths take many forms. One form is to make a statement that is essentially “true,” but presented in such a way that makes it sound much more devastating than it really is.
Let’s take one single statement that was included in the WHI media report and reveal all the facts:
The media report stated that “Hormone replacement therapy for menopause increased the risk of blood clots 100% in the study subjects.” In other words, the risk of a blood clot increased 100%.
So, what does a “100% increased risk” mean to you?
Does it mean that 100% of the women who took hormones had a blood clot?
Does it mean that the risk of a blood clot increased 100%?
Does it mean that women who took hormones had a blood clot 100% of the time?
Hmmmm? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Well, if the media report had given you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you wouldn’t be wondering what “100% increased risk” meant. You’d know!
So, now I’ll reveal the truth.
The WHI study examined 10,000 women. That’s a lot of women!
The average age of those women was 63. Hey, that’s a whole lot older than the typical woman who takes hormone replacement therapy for the symptoms of menopause! They’re normally only around 51. And, hey, older women have more blood clots, anyway.
But here’s the shocking part of the truth:
Without hormone replacement therapy, 8 women (out of 10,000) had a blood clot.
And, now for the punchline:
With hormone replacement therapy, 16 women (out of 10,000) had a blood clot!
So, the “100% increased risk” meant that instead of 8 women having a blood clot, 16 women had a blood clot … out of 10,000.
But, of course, no one bothered to tell you that. All you heard was “The risk of a blood clots increased 100%.”
Does “16 women out of 10,00 had a blood clot instead of 8” sound as devastating and drastic as “The risk of a blood clot increased 100%”?
Or maybe you’re a little angry.
If so, you have every right to be. You got the non-truth, the half-truth, and everything but the truth. That’s not fair.
If only you’d heard the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you would have had the opportunity to evaluate the significance of that study fairly. And I’ll bet a lot fewer women would have flushed their hormones down the toilet.