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Rant, rant, rant...

Before you sign up for a lifetime of hormones, take a look at your ancestors

We've all seen the hormone ads, read the reports in the paper, heard the lectures from our physicians:

We're getting old, heading into menopause, and our bones are leaching calcium. Soon they'll look like Swiss cheese and crack under our weight. We'll be stooped, shrunken, shriveled -- hump-backed, even. Then we'll break a hip without even falling and end our lives as cripples, or die in our hospital beds when pneumonia gets us.

Fortunately, there are hormones that will help us. All we have to do is take $20-$30 worth of drugs every month, and we can stay youthful and strong-boned -- even have periods (gee, thanks) into our old age.

Who wouldn't rush out to get this cheap insurance against the perils of osteoporosis?

I wouldn't. Here's why.

Laura's aunties

This is a picture of my aunties. More precisely, it's a picture of one of my paternal great-grandmothers (the one on the right) and her siblings. You'll notice a few things about them right off the bat.

  young aunties

First, they're almost all in their eighties. Second, they seem to be standing upright. Third, they look reasonably alert and happy. Fourth, they look a lot like me--and all the women are pear-shaped, also like me. Finally, and you wouldn't have any way to know this unless I tell you: this picture of the old folks includes all the siblings who survived infancy except one (top center in the 1890s picture also shown here), who died in childbirth around the turn of the century. That's a lot of old people. They died in their late 80s and early 90s, most of them quietly in their sleep after climbing up to their second- or third-floor bedrooms. Not a broken bone in the bunch, either, and I knew every one of those folks.

A fluke, you say? Well, let's talk about my other paternal great-grandmother. Unlike these others, she did break a bone in her eighties -- when a car-door flew open on a curve and she was thrown onto an embankment. The car was doing almost 40. She broke her wrist, although she landed on her hip.

How about the folks on my mother's side? I wasn't as close to my great-grandparents' generation on that side, but I can tell you about my grandparents. Grandpa died nine days short of his 90th birthday, after a brief illness. Grandma died on her 91st birthday. No broken bones there, either.

No heart disease there, either, unless you count hearts stopping in folks' sleep when they're pushing 90. Or beyond.

Now: just what are these hormones supposed to protect me from?

Laura's bones rant
August 24, 1998

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