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The Cure in the Code by Peter Huber

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4

COMING APART

ESTROGEN WAS THE first mass-market drug deliberately aimed at human chemistry. Beginning in the late 1930s, natural and then synthetic estrogens were widely used to treat hot flashes, insomnia, the discomforts of menopause, and a host of other conditions. In 1960, the FDA licensed Searle’s Enovid—a combination of two precursor molecules that, when metabolized in the liver, yield estrogen and a second hormone that affects the uterus—as the first oral contraceptive. Hundreds of millions of young women have used estrogen-based pills since.

Pinning down estrogen’s power to control fertility was easy, but estrogen has many other more subtle effects. Statistical studies began to link estrogen to strokes, heart attacks, and dementia ...

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