Just what's in those menopause pills?

Bernie Mitchell

PMU farms here?

At present there are no PMU farms in NZ although that is not to say there could not be.

It seems likely that a similar product to Premarin could be made from urine supplied from New Zealand and/or Australia in light of a recent announcement by an Australian company. This company has said it has a new horse-friendly method of collection which it believes could see it soon supply much of world requirements.

The company has also stated that with its collection method the pregnant mares are able to roam freely outdoors.

In the region of Manitoba, in Canada, farms that harvest the urine from pregnant mares are casually referred to as PMU farms.

At first mention it seems a strange sort of farming but as you learn more about the reasons for it and the methods used you soon realise that unnecessary and cruel are better descriptions.

Premarin stands for Pregnant Mares' Urine (PREgnant MARes' urINe); PMU for short. Premarin (including Prempro, Premphase, and Prempac) is a drug made up of conjugated oestrogens obtained from the urine of pregnant mares - put out in many forms (pills, creams, injections, patches) and is used to reduce the symptoms of menopause in women or women who have had a hysterectomy.

Typical PMU producing farm "collection" area
Pictures from premarin.org
Premarin is also prescribed to nearly eliminate the risk of osteoporosis (the brittling of bones) and reduce the chance of heart disease in women over 50.

Dying Filly

"Unknown" filly being rendered while still alive.
Picture from premarin.org
US reports show about nine million American women are currently taking someform of Premarin. About one-third of the post-menopausal women in the US are on oestrogen replacement therapy/ERT, or hormone replacement therapy/HRT, and of them, about 78% use Premarin products.

All Premarin is currently organic, and is all derived from oestrogens extracted from pregnant mares' urine. If you ever doubt where organic Premarin comes from, just break open a pill and smell it!

Introduced in 1942, long before synthetic alternatives existed. Premarin was one of the first drugs available when hormonal therapy for menopause was introduced. The industry thrived (mostly in Ontario, Canada) until allegations of catheterized mares living in squalor and foals being mistreated could no longer be ignored.

The Ontario Government stepped in and issued regulations tied to licensing, citing and revoking permits.

So why you ask, are there still PMU farms?

Good question because Premarin, like the hormone replacement insulin before it, can now be 100% synthesized.

Of concern to the animal welfare lobbyists is the fact that women of the baby boom generation are now in their 40s and 50s. Premarin is the single most prescribed drug in the US (and the third most prescribed drug in Canada). It is also Canada's most lucrative pharmaceutical export to date.

How does it work?

On most PMU farms, mares are 115 to 125 days pregnant when the collection period begins - oestrogen production starts to peak between day 200 to 275 of pregnancy then decreases to parturition. Mares are collected for a period of 150 to 160 days with the collection period being from October 1 to March 31.

PMU farmers work to maintain a constant urine volume to meet both their quota requirements and the urine grade. Mares usually produce 90 to 100 gallons of urine throughout the collection season. On a daily basis, an average mare will produce about 0.6 gallon per day.

Anti-PMU people focus on the fact the pregnant mares are kept tied up indoors in small stalls for six months of the year.

Farmers in this business are paid up to $US11 per one gallon of PMU.

Other options

Most doctors agree Premarin is not the only effective oestrogen replacement for preventing osteoporosis and treating the symptoms of menopause. There are other oestrogen drugs derived from plants. For more information on Premarin and the alternatives visit: www.premarin.org