Wyeth and the Multibillion Dollar Menopause Industry

(this is the first of several posts regarding the “corporatization” of the US health care system – and its harmful effects on human health)

I have blogged previously about the ingenious – and deadly – strategy by pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests of inventing fictitious illnesses to market highly profitable drugs that allegedly “treat” them. The technical terms for this practice are “medicalizing” or “disease mongering.”

In May (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/05/24/marketing-serotonin-deficiency/), I wrote about so-called “serotonin deficiency syndrome,” the alleged cause of depression, which is used to promote the multibillion dollar serotonin reuptake inhibitor industry (with SSRIs like Prozac, Zololft and Paxil). In November (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/11/30/fluoride-the-new-lead/), I wrote about the even more dangerous “fluoride deficiency” syndrome, which has led dozens of American cities to mass medicate their residents with the industrial poison fluorosilicic acid, in the misguided belief that taking it internally prevents tooth decay (in spite of research showing that fluoride must be applied directly to teeth to strengthen enamel).

Dr Marcia Angell, in her 2004 The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It, also talks about “generalized anxiety disorder,” “erectile dysfunction,” “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” and “gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder (heartburn)” as examples of common complaints that drug companies have reinvented as chronic illnesses requiring lifelong treatment (see http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/171/12/1451).

Estrogen Deficiency Syndrome

The marketing of so-called “estrogen deficiency syndrome,” which is known as “menopause” in English-speaking countries (other cultures have no word for it) and Premarin and Prempro as “hormone replacement therapy (HRT)” has been far more lethal, in view of 30 years of research linking it to reproductive cancers. The number of premature deaths caused by inappropriate estrogen replacement is estimated in the millions.

In this case the culprit is a single company, Wyeth, who unlike Eli Lily (the manufacturer of Prozac, the first SSRI), managed to beat off competitors with their “me-too” drugs.

Hiding the Cancer Link from Doctors and the Public

In 1996, I supported a friend through the agony of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. In Marsha’s case, the pain and disfigurement of mastectomy, the agonizing nausea and malaise of chemotherapy was vastly compounded by extreme anger that no one – not her doctor, the FDA, nor Wyeth – had informed her that she was doubling her risk of breast cancer by taking Premarin.

Although the medical community (and Wyeth) have been aware of links between estrogen replacement and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer since the 1970s, the research was effectively concealed from public view – until the frightening results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study hit the front page in 2002. Between 1993 and 1995, the National Institutes of Health enrolled 161,809 women in the double blind WHI study. In 2002 the NHI shut down the study, originally scheduled to finish in 2005, when it became clear that the women taking HRT were experiencing a 26% increase in breast cancer (with the risk doubling after five years), a 41% increase in strokes and a 29% increase in heart disease (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/).

5000+ Lawsuits Against Wyeth

Seventy percent of American women taking estrogen replacement in 2002 stopped when the NHI shut the WHI study down. This resulted in a 7% decrease in the first year alone of new breast cancer cases – a total of 14,000 women spared the agony of a potentially fatal breast cancer diagnosis (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/). The study findings have also resulted in 5000+ cancer lawsuits against Wyeth for misrepresenting earlier cancer research to doctors – and their failure to inform women of the significant cancer risks associated with HRT.

Marketing Eternal Youth

As revealed in internal documents uncovered in some of the initial lawsuits, Wyeth’s culpability goes far beyond neglecting to inform menopausal women of cancer risks. In fact they paint a very ugly picture of an aggressive public relations campaign to convince women and their doctors that estrogen replacement was the secret to eternal youth – by preventing age-related skin changes.

It was a win-win campaign. As a result of decades of marketing about the horrors of aging, which still sells billions of dollars of hair coloring, wrinkle removing creams, botox, diet products and plans, and plastic surgery,  post menopausal women were terrified of losing their sexual attractiveness if they didn’t take estrogen. And because women’s health “experts” were recommending it in medical journals, doctors were more than happy to overlook increasing evidence that it caused cancer.


Ads linking premarin with sexual attractiveness

Ads linking Premarin with youth and sexual attractiveness


To be continued, with a discussion of the uniquely American concept of “menopause.”

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