Now the Institute says it is abruptly halting the studies and suggests that women talk to their doctors. Many women of the 16,000 in the study received letters telling them to stop taking their drugs.
It's interesting to note that the tale of estrogen therapy began in 1966, when an enthusiastic physician, Dr. Robert Wilson, wrote a best-selling book called ''Feminine Forever,'' and flew around the country promoting it. One paragraph about the benefits of hormone therapy is awful. ''Breasts and genital organs will not shrivel. Such women will be much more pleasant to live with and not become dull and unattractive.'' Wilson died in 1981. Lucky for him or I would be looking for him. His son, Ronald Wilson, said last week that the pharmaceutical company Wyeth-Ayerst paid all the expenses of writing and promoting the book and had financed his father's organization, the ''Wilson Research Foundation'' with offices on Park Avenue in Manhatten.
Not surprisingly, by 1975, Wyeth's product, Premarin, had become the fifth leading prescription drug in the United States. Isn't that special? And how many physicians and drug companies, do you suppose, are in cahoots on recommended treatments for other health problems?
I have been vindicated. As a woman about 15 years past menopause, I have always fought the notion that somehow our natural ageing process is bad and that I had to avoid all sorts of horrible consequences (so I was told) of this change of life, such as facial hair, leather-like skin, painful sex, change of personality, hot flashes, loss of sleep, etc. My doctor at the time knew absolutely nothing and the subject was verboten. A few friends said I would completely lose my youth and vitality if I didn't take these pills.
My short experience with the medicine was that it caused depression and weight gain. My mother and her friends had never heard of such nonsense, of course, and they survived menopause with little fanfare. In fact my mother is a sharp-looking, energetic cookie at age 93. Sure, I had some hot flashes and insomnia, but my general reaction to the changes in my body was one of great relief. Without going into graphic detail, one can imagine why. There is a time in our lives for everything.
It has become understood that if women eat the proper foods, exercise and live a generally healthy life, we will have few problems adjusting to life's physical changes. Obviously, our mental attitude and our view of ourselves are key factors. So, we have to stop listening to most men. When in high school, my oldest daughter reported to me that her male biology teacher described menopause to her class in the most dire terms. It was disgusting and I was furious. I asked her to ask him the next day about male menopause. She did, he was thunderstruck, and that was the end of that discussion. There is such a thing, you know. Men's levels of testosterone drop precipitously and they, too, may have physical and personality changes as they age. That's about the time, for example, when some men buy sports cars and have affairs with younger women.
The bottom line is: What's the matter with the natural course of things?
Who said we have to remain youthful, slim sexpots?. Comedian Phyllis Diller once said, ''I have the same figure I had when I was sixteen, it's just two inches lower.'' Well said.
This should really be the time we can concentrate on ourselves a bit more, realize we don't have to please everyone and rest assured that even though we are changing, we are as valuable and feminine as we were at 25.
Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.