“HRT can double the risk of breast cancer”… ran the shock news headlines, following a British study reported in The Lancet.
But this wasn’t news to psychotherapist, writer and ‘hormone whistleblower’ Dr Sherrill Sellman.
[This article was initially published in ICON Magazine]
A decade ago, as a personal quest, Dr Sellman uncovered hidden truths about synthetic oestrogen since when she has become an impassioned advocate for womens health.
Her book Hormone Heresy and the popular lectures she’s been giving across America, Australia, England and Ireland explode the 40 year old myth that the Pill and HRT are the golden keys to womens welfare.
Quite the contrary, contends Sherrill: synthetic oestrogen may represent the fatted calf of pharmaceutical industries worldwide, but it has devastated womens energy, libido, equilibrium – and our resistance to assorted cancers.
How come, asks Sherrill, the incidence of breast cancer in America has risen three per cent each year since 1980? How is it that 35,000 women a year now contract endometrial cancer, of which synthetic oestrogen is the only known cause? Why are PMS, infertility and miscarriage on the rise and 40 million women reporting low libido? “Approaching a million American women a year have hysterectomies” says Sherrill, “of which 90-95 per cent are medically nonessential. Three-quarters of all hysterectomies are performed on women under 49 who are then catapulted into surgical menopause. Most are offered HRT to reduce hot flushes, joint pains and depression which could safely be addressed by natural methods.
“Hormones” she adds “are natures finely tuned messengers of lifes processes. They are very powerful and we tamper with them at our peril.” That tampering began when the Pill was first prescribed despite five women having died of strokes and heart attacks during the single years pre-marketing trial.
“HRT can double the risk of breast cancer”
It was endorsed by Feminine Forever, a now largely forgotten bestseller by New York gynecologist Dr Robert Wilson who “energetically promoted” menopause as a condition of living decay which caused ovaries to shrivel, and women untreated by HRT – a kind of magic youth remedy – to be desexed and diminished into “dull-minded but sharp-tongued caricatures” of their former selves.
The truth, as Sherrill’s determined research uncovered, is that far from being oestrogen deficient, western women of all ages are now suffering from oestrogen dominance.
Out of balance with progesterone, this oestrogen then becomes toxic to the body, causing assorted problems of which weight gain is only the most obvious that women bemoan. “Excess oestrogen turns food into a type of fat,” says Sherrill “that you can’t lose no matter how much you diet. It also increases breast lumpiness, depression, mood swings, fluid retention, bloating fatigue, headaches, foggy thinking, memory loss, aches and pains, as well as the more serious problems associated with cancer.
What Women Really Need
The solution is to restore hormonal balance by compensating not for a medical make-believe shortage of oestrogen but the genuine and mounting deficiency in natural progesterone which is only now being understood. “Natural progesterone (not synthetic progestin, which is also carcinogenic) has been the poor relation female hormone for far too long” says Sherrill, “and really should oust oestrogen at centre stage.”
A study at John Hopkins in Baltimore, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, monitored the cancer incidence in two groups of mature women, and found that the group with the low progesterone level had a five and a half fold increased risk of breast cancer.
The low progesterone participants also had a 10-fold increase in death from all types of cancer compared to the high-level progesterone women. “Where” asks Sherrill, “have you seen this study reported? It certainly never made the six o’clock news.”
Its every woman’s gain that Sherrill Sellman, never fell victim to the 20th centurys great medical bungle. She looks, as she claims to feel, the picture of vitality: “Ive honestly never felt better in my life, though there were times in my twenties and thirties when I suffered the mood swings, depression and food cravings many women will recognise. I remember having pints of ice cream for lunch!”
Struck down by inexplicable symptoms which she now recognises as the peri-menopause, Sherill went looking for answers to help herself – and was impressed enough by what she discovered to change course, close her therapeutic practice and start telling women what we really need to know about our own bodies.
Sherrill, back then, seemed the very model of fulfillment: a busy practice and personal development programmes were keeping her busy 80-100 hours a week. “I assumed I was successful. I was making money, I was in demand, it was great.” Or it would have been had Sherrill not suddenly been laid low by anxiety attacks she’d never experienced in her life. “As a therapist I naturally assumed this was a psychotherapeutic problem, so for over a year I tried a range of modalities that I knew to be effective. Nothing worked, so I was just kind of putting up with things though for the first time in my life I also experienced fatigue and insomnia.”
What finally forced Sherrill to address her problems was the added experience of night sweats. “But here too was a really big clue because night sweats relate to hormones, so I knew that I had to pay attention not to what was going on in my psyche, but in my body. And this too was a first for me – up to now I had paid no attention to my menstrual cycle. Id heard the word menopause, but I didnt really know what it was all about. I didnt know what HRT was and I hadnt even enough knowledge to assess if it was good or bad.”
Sherill began to investigate the menopause and the role of HRT, “and the more I read the more thoroughly confusing the subject became. Back then, in 1994 everything we were told about HRT sounded so rosy. But what I was uncovering seriously challenged those notions. I was left perplexed as many women are, but my resolve to get to the bottom of it all was only strengthened.” Sherill began reading research papers, calling clinicians and medical researchers all over the world. She found that the use of unopposed oestrogen can lead to 300 per cent increase in blood clots.
She learned that in the early 1920s only 21 new cases of endometriosis were reported, while the figure now is somewhere between five and half and ten million cases. Information on the dangers of added oestrogen, she says, was all already out there, “but no one had put it together to build the full picture”. Sherrill’s phone call to Dr John Lee in California proved a revelation. Here was a retired physician with a very positive attitude to menopause, which he said “should be regarded as a normal adjustment reflecting a benign change in a womans life away from childbearing and onward to a new period of personal power and fulfilment.
Few women find their way to the proof offered by the Boston Nurses Questionnaire Study, which followed HRT use among 121,700 women for 18 years. The study warned that women who used the combined progestin and oestrogen form of HRT increased their risk of developing breast cancer by up to 100 per cent after 10 years usage. Ten years of oestrogen alone increased the risk of breast cancer one third or more compared with same age women who had never taken HRT. In women aged 60-64 the breast cancer risk rose to 70 per cent after five years use.
Checking your breast
How strange then that the Boston Nurses study was by and large ignored until now when exactly the same figures reported in the British Lancet this August are construed as shock news to us all. They were certainly no surprise to Sherrill: “You bet I saw the study” she says. “HRT is a global medical disaster and yet doctors are still justifying its use”. Just to make the point crystal clear, combined HRT which appear so hazardous in these major studies, contains progestin, a synthetic, man-made molecule. The name may sound similar but its not to be confused with natural progesterone, the bio-identical hormone made by the body which is protective against breast cancer and other oestrogen stimulated cancers and conditions.”
Totally confounding its reputation for protecting against ovarian cancer, another American Cancer Society (1995) showed study of 240,000 post-menopausal women by risk of fatal ovarian cancer was 40 per cent higher for women using oestrogen for at least six years, and 70 per cent higher after 11 years. Yet many doctors are still reassuring women that HRT is fine to take even in their seventies and eighties. They even peddle its use as a positive anti-ageing force. And get away with it, because says Sherrill: “We just dont use the information in front of our own faces. Oestrogen dominance actually accelerates the ageing process, increasing the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, blood clots, strokes and high blood pressure.”
Sherrill now recognised that her own symptoms were classic signs of an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone. Luckily for her she was living in the States – the only place in the world where you can buy natural progesterone creams over the counter. Within a month of starting the cream, Sherrills night sweats vanished and after three, the anxiety attacks had stopped too. “That was a major revelation which for me firmly connected so-called psychological emotional issues with hormonal imbalance.”
Far too many are stressed in our society,” says Sherrill. Its physical, affecting your adrenal glands which are the very foundation for hormonal balance. But there are also internal influences – if you have parasites, candida, some infection or inflammation -then this too compromises adrenal function. Stretched to exhaustion point, more and more working women heading towards and into their forties now fail to ovulate every month as their adrenal system goes into fight or flight and the ovaries shut down in favour of survival. Progesterone cant then be produced by the ovaries or at the adrenals – the alternative source that is also not working. So the women become progesterone deficient and oestrogen dominant. A fast-food diet of sugar, caffeine and refined carbohydrates exacerbates the problem, leading to a damaged metabolism.”
Balance And Wellbeing
Its Sherill’s belief that all hormonal imbalance is a symptom that help is needed: “because contrary to Robert Wilson’s book, nature did NOT design us to fall apart or to suffer. Many women do still think that they have the curse when they menstruate, and that the menopause marks a downhill slide. Lets not forget that as late as the 1950s the menopause was construed as a psychiatric condition for which women were shut up in institutions and given shock treatment and anti-depressants. That was followed with the message: Lets fix you up with hormones that are now totally diminishing which is the myth thats lured women into the drugs snare.” And it is a myth – Sherrill stresses that we do not suddenly stop producing oestrogen lock stock and barrel – “our levels just drop by somewhere between 40-60 per cent, just enough to stop us having babies any more. Chinese medicine sees this as a positive shift – one that gives us an opportunity to cultivate renewed chi or life force”
“The earlier a girl uses the pill, the greater her risk of contracting breast cancer, the larger the tumours appear to be and the worse her prognosis”
Sherrill quotes an old native American saying that at menarche a young woman enters her power, in her childbearing years she practises her power and at menopause she becomes her power. The alarming upsurge of young women being diagnosed with breast cancer has much to do, says Sherrill, with them now being unaware “like ships without rudders, having no sense of the power they contain within them. The earlier a girl uses the Pill, the greater her risk of contracting breast cancer, the larger the tumours appear to be and the worse her prognosis. Thats because the breast tissue of young girls is still developing and is particularly sensitive to overstimulation from synthetic oestrogen which triggers 150 chemical changes in a teenagers body. Young women need to be very fit and healthy to withstand all that.”
In our striving to see our daughters successful in the 21st century world weve forgotten to teach them to look after themselves through what they put into their bodies – through diet, nutritional supplements as well as exercise and stress reduction. So PMS – also relieved by progesterone cream rubbed in for the second half of a womans cycle – gets ever more debilitating. Says Sherrill: “Aboriginal women point out that a pregnant mother can have three generations of wisdom within her – her own, her childs and the full complement of eggs her female foetus carries. Part of rediscovering the wisdom thats innate with them is for young women to recognise that when they are on the Pill they are having forced bleeds like women on HRT and not natural periods. Women dont always understand this – and nor do the doctors who are prescribing for them. By obliterating menstrual cycles you are shutting down the ovaries, and women who dont ovulate dont produce the progesterone thats vital to their well being – and their fertility.”
The Pill is a major contributor to infertility which is why its increasing all across the west with one couple in six infertile in Australia, one in 10 in the States. “There are very many effective ways of tackling infertility – get the woman healthy for a start, use progesterone cream and Chinese medicine. But young women who dont know this opt for fertility drugs which are oestrogen-based, very expensive with a very low rate of success and above all horribly compromising to a womans health. Ive met women who had IVF who now have breast cancer or depression or gained 100 pounds in weight and now have major thyroid imbalance or arthritis, all of which are side effects of high oestrogen levels.”
Sherill Sellman, “waking up with abundant energy”, studying naturopathy and Chinese medicine is living proof of what she preaches. She has just written a second book: Mothers, Prevent Your Daughters From Getting Breast Cancer.
In the Savvy Team, we believe in Dr Sellman’s message and have had the privilege of having her speak for us. An interview with Sherrill is available on CD through us.
[Want some actionable tips and more information? Download the Special Report – ’9 Things That Mess Up Your Hormones’ ]