Five years ago panicked postmenopausal women threw away their hormone pills after the federal government revealed that the drugs raised the risk of breast cancer and coronary disease. In 2006 only six million U.S. women got hormone prescriptions, a dramatic drop from 16 million in 2001. It seemed like the end for hormone therapy, especially for the previously fashionable notion that hormones protected older women from cardiovascular disease and other ills caused by aging.

But papers published this year, written by researchers who delivered the original warning, show that taking hormones soon after menopause—within about 10 years—is safe for most women. The data even suggest that hormone therapy for less than 10 years may improve some women’s health more than doing nothing.