Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the menopause can reduce the risk of heart failure and heart attacks, a study suggests.
And researchers said that taking HRT is not associated with an increased risk of cancer or strokes.
HRT, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause, is a hotly debated subject between academics. Previous research indicated that taking the drugs could lead to an increased risk of breast cancer and there were growing concerns that it could be linked to heart disease and stroke.
But this new research lends support to the use of the drugs.
Researchers in Denmark examined 1,000 women who began the study when they were aged between 45 and 58. Half of the group were given HRT which was started early after the menopause and the control group received no treatment.
The study, published on bmj.com, found that after 10 years, 33 women in the control group had died or suffered heart failure or a heart attack compared with just 16 women who were given HRT.
They also found that 36 women in the HRT group were treated for cancer compared with 39 in the control group - 10 women in the HRT group were treated for breast cancer compared with 17 in the control group.
Eleven women in the HRT group were treated for stroke compared with 14 in the control group.
The health benefits noted by the researchers occurred 10 years after the women started taking HRT and continued for six years afterwards, they said.
“Our findings suggest that initiation of hormone replacement therapy in women early after menopause significantly reduces the risk of the combined endpoint of mortality, myocardial infarction, or heart failure,” the authors conclude.
“Importantly, early initiation and prolonged hormone replacement therapy did not result in an increased risk of breast cancer or stroke.”