Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) cuts the risk of early death in post-menopausal women by as much as 30pc, according to a major study.
The proportion of women using HRT has dropped significantly over the past two decades since reports emerged that it can lead to greater risk of certain cancers.
However, a study of more than 4,200 women has concluded those who used the treatment also had healthier hearts. And the research, which examined a greater number of patients over a longer period than most comparable studies, concludes that, on balance, HRT is the healthier option.
Natural levels of oestrogen, which has a protective effect on the heart, plummet as women go through the menopause, but researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles believe supplementing the hormone may explain improved mortality. The team has cautioned, however, that its research paints a broad picture of female post-menopausal health and there may still be groups of women for whom the therapy is not advisable.
HRT has been popular among menopausal women because it alleviates common symptoms including hot flushes, reduced sex drive and urinary tract infections.
But a growing body of recent research has also highlighted the benefits of improved oestrogen levels to the cardiovascular system.
Analysis of 14 years of patient data at Cedars-Sinai showed women taking HRT had a 20pc greater chance of a low coronary calcium score, indicating a lower risk of a heart attack. They were also 36pc less likely to have a coronary calcium score above 399, indicating a severe risk.