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Premarin: Hormone therapy hurts women, horses

Menopause cruel, but nowhere close to suffering of mares tapped for HRT

August 12, 2007

Billie Stanton, of the Tucson Citizen

In May, this mare delivered her foal on the kill floor at the Cavel International slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Ill. Both the mare and her foal later were released to the Humane Society of the United States.
Picture: © Courtesy of Equine Voices/Tucson Citizen

Rejoice in those mood swings and night sweats, oh menopausal ones, because they sure beat the alternative.

Hormone therapy increases breast cancer, stroke, heart attack and dementia risks. It hurts horses, too.

The urine of pregnant mares is the key ingredient in Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' once-popular and hugely profitable Premarin. (Pregnant Mare Urine - clever name, no?)

On farms in Canada, mostly, the mares are tightly caged, tubes tapping their urine, till their foals are born; then they're swiftly reimpregnated. Mare and foal alike are sold when no longer useful, and off to the slaughterhouses they go, destined to pique the palates of Europeans. They eat horses, don't they? But women and horses alike are faring better today.

Since the National Institutes of Health sounded the alarm on hormone therapy's risks in 2002, far fewer women go that route. As a result, the National Cancer Institute reported this April, the incidence of breast cancer among women of menopausal age dropped sharply, by 6.7 percent in 2003. The reduced rate stayed steady in 2004.

The party bonus is that those urine farms are dwindling, from about 450 in the 1980s to perhaps 74 today, horse advocates estimate. Cuts in Premarin production spurred the creation of PMURescue in December 2003. The local Equine Voices Rescue and Sanctuary has adopted out about 180 mares and foals since 2005 from its Jumpin' Jack Ranch, tucked between Tubac and Green Valley.

Thirty-year-old "Chocolate" is sponsored, appropriately enough, by pastry chef Marianne Banes, whose delicacies delight patrons of Kingfisher Bar and Grill and the Blue Fin Seafood Bistro. Banes joined other volunteers and supporters Friday night at the Amado Inn to raise money for the 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Equine Voices founder Karen Pomroy runs a tight adoption program, wielding a half-inch-thick rules book and making unannounced visits to check on the horses. Every horse adopted from Equine Voices produces money to save more horses, she notes. In September, for example, her group will pick up 10 pregnant mares being released from a Canadian farm.

Back on the human front, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Now the company wants Food and Drug Administration approval for Pristiq, the first nonhormonal treatment for menopause symptoms. The FDA requested more data on the drug July 16 after a few women experienced serious heart or liver complications. But for many of us, even FDA approval doesn't inspire any confidence.

Premarin and a host of other FDA-approved drugs later proved to have serious, even life-threatening, side effects. Some drugs' production methods also have had devastating effects on animals, rare plants and rain forests. So think twice before you fill that prescription.

Got menopause? Try cold showers. Pound your pillow. And demand understanding from those around you. The life you save may be your own. Or it may be that of a horse or two.



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