For once, estrogen is not the culprit for complaints during menopause-- at least when it comes to women’s heart issues. While the risk for cardiovascular disease does go up in women as they enter menopause, it’s more likely to be linked to a relative increase in testosterone rather than a drop in estrogen, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.
In a nine-year study of 949 women between the ages of 42 to 52, the researchers led by Dr. Imke Janssen, charted the development of five key cardiovascular risk factors, known collectively as “metabolic syndrome. ” Scientists measured changes in waist size, triglyceride levels, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels as the women progressed into menopause. The scientists then correlated what they found to each woman’s changes in estrogen or testosterone.
None of the women had any of the risk factors when they started the study, but Dr. Janessen and her team found that nearly 14% of the women developed signs of metabolic syndrome by the time of their final menstrual period, and the risk continued to increase for an additional six years as the women passed through menopause. Surprisingly, the cardiovascular risk changes were strongly associated with changes in the availability of testosterone, not of estrogen.
“It was previously thought that estrogen exerted a direct positive effect on cardiovascular diseases in women, a benefit that was lost as women transitioned from a premenopausal to a postmenopausal state and experienced the loss of estrogen,” according to Janssen.
“Our study data shows that the change in estrogen level, is at best, a weak and insignificant predictor of metabolic syndrome,” said Janssen. “ A more likely story is that the progressive testosterone predominance exerts a direct negative effect on cardiovascular risk.”
This finding is consistent with previous studies indicating that women receiving estrogen hormone replacement therapy during menopause gained no protection against cardiovascular disease.