HORMONE FLASH Two federal agencies last week issued warnings to dozens of companies promoting "alternative" hormone therapies for women.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission together sent letters to about 50 firms and Web sites that market supplements and creams as alternatives to hormone replacement therapy. The letters warned firms against making baseless claims that the treatments can help with serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

"It's particularly troublesome when these claims provide false hope to patients with serious or life-threatening conditions," Margaret Glavin, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a statement.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) aims to replace hormones diminished by menopause and is prescribed to women to relieve such symptoms as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings.

But millions of women stopped taking the pills and sought alternatives after learning in recent years that HRT can raise risk of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and other conditions.

IN OTHER WORRISOME HORMONE NEWS . . . The FDA is warning users of the Ortho Evra birth control patch that they are being exposed to more hormones, and are therefore at higher risk of blood clots and other serious side effects, than previously disclosed.

Until now, regulators and the product's maker, Ortho McNeil, had said the patch's risks were similar to those of birth control pills. But a strongly worded warning was added to the patch label Thursday: It says users will be exposed to about 60 percent more estrogen than those taking pills.

-- From News Services