News Briefs

FDA Strives to Inform Women About Menopausal Hormone Therapy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a nationwide information campaign to raise awareness about the recent findings on the risks and benefits of menopausal hormone therapy. Last spring, Congress directed the FDA to develop and execute this important information campaign targeting women through partnerships with organizations nationwide. More than 10 million women use menopausal hormone therapies for relief from symptoms of menopause.

Working in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and other Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, the FDA has developed science-based informational materials on its latest guidance on menopausal hormone therapies (estrogens and estrogens with progestins), and is working closely with women’s health organizations, community-based organizations, and other experts to get this information out to women and health care providers.

The main tools of the campaign are a menopause and hormone-therapy fact sheet, and a purse guide that provides questions for discussion with a health professional. These materials will be available in both English and Spanish from the National Women’s Health Information Center at

The campaign, led by FDA and HHS agencies, also is being sponsored by a wide variety of participating organizations. It is designed to clarify the recent information from studies including the landmark Women’s Health Initiative Study, one arm of which was halted in July 2002 due to concerns about increased risks of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and other health concerns.

This event is the first in a series of events being scheduled this fall to assist FDA’s partners in providing up-to-date, reliable information and guidance to women.

Use of Alternative Therapies Grow in Europe, but Skepticism Remains

A recent report says that while the use of alternative therapies in Europe is growing, a large portion of the population is still skeptical and prefers traditional medicine.

The report covers the major therapy areas of herbal remedies, homeopathy, aromatherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, reflexology, acupuncture, and the Alexander Technique, and also the retail product sectors of herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy oils. The growth in the use of therapies is supported by the public’s increased awareness of the need to preserve a healthy lifestyle, says "Alternative Health Market Assessment 2003," offered by Research and Markets Ltd., a firm that provides European market research and data.

The market for herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy oils, taken or used independently or in conjunction with therapy, is expected to be about 5% in 2003. It is then expected to rise to more than 6.9% in 2006 and be about 6.5% by 2007. This is largely the result of regulatory activity in herbal products, and of certain reports regarding safety and efficacy, the report says.

The report says that alternative health care therapies and products are targeted principally at common and long-term conditions such as digestive disorders, colds and influenza, headaches and migraine, depression and stress, and back and joint pain. Alternative therapies and products are perceived to offer fewer side effects, although recent studies have indicated that side effects do exist with alternative remedies.

Sage Improves Memory, May Help in Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment, Study Shows

British researchers are claiming that sage can help memory—and may be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the Medicinal Plant Research Centre (MPRC) at the University of Newcastle tested 44 healthy young adults aged between 18 and 37. Some study participants were given capsules containing sage oil and others were given placebos.

The volunteers then took part in a word recall test and were tested at intervals to see how many words they could remember. Results showed that those who had taken the sage oil consistently performed better than those who had taken placebos. The complete results of the study were published in the journal, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour.

The researchers from the University of Newcastle and some from the University of Northumbria have also found claims from centuries-old text that support the use of sage to help memory. In 1597, herbalist John Gerard wrote that sage is "singularly good for the head and brain and quickeneth the nerves and memory." In 1652, Nicholas Culpeper wrote that "[Sage] also heals the memory, warming and quickening the senses." At that time, people were known to take sage for memory loss and to drink teas and tinctures containing extracts of the herb, the researchers say.

"This proves how valuable the work by the old herbalists is, and that they shouldn’t just be ignored because they were writing centuries ago," says lead researcher Nicola Tildesley.

MPRC is already investigating sage as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease after earlier research found that it inhibits an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down the chemical messenger acetylcholine. Alzheimer’s is accompanied by a drop in acetylcholine.

This research has serious implications for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, as it will inform drug research and development, Tildesley says.