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Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2002 Sep;29(3):475-93.

Reproductive hormones and cardiovascular disease mechanism of action and clinical implications.

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Department of Pathology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1040, USA.


The bulk of the experimental data suggest beneficial effects of estrogen (both premenopausal use of OCs and postmenopausal use of ERT-HRT). An intriguing finding from the monkey studies is that social subordination, which induces estrogen deficiency in female monkeys, accelerates atherosclerosis premenopausally and predicts extent of postmenopausal atherosclerosis. This effect can be inhibited by exogenous estrogen, premenopausally. The results suggest that more effort on detecting and regulating premenopausal ovarian dysfunction may be justified. A complication in understanding estrogen action may be the result of varying extents of arterial damage. For example, primary prevention studies in both postmenopausal animals and women have provided strong evidence of atheroprotection with a variety of estrogens. In contrast, the results of secondary prevention studies [10,12] have in general suggested little cardioprotection with either ERT or HRT. Studies in rabbits suggest the antiatherogenic effect of estrogen may not be present when the endothelium is damaged [64]. The state of the endothelium may be critical for some estrogen actions. For those effects of estrogen that require the ER, be it ERalpha or ERbeta, the presence of the receptor may vary with age, disease state, or type of hormone therapy. If continuous combined HRT therapy decreases ER in the artery as it does in the uterus, this may eliminate those estrogen actions requiring the ER, but not others. Older women who have not been exposed to estrogens for many years may be more sensitive to some estrogen effects, and may need lower doses of ERT-HRT. Recent reports suggest that lower doses of estrogens maintain beneficial effects on lipoproteins and coagulation factors [95], while also requiring lower doses of progestogens to protect the uterus [96]. These beneficial findings are very promising in light of the improvements in CHD risk and decreased stroke risk reported with low-dose estrogens [5]. It ill be interesting to see if CRP is increased with lower doses of estrogens and whether these changes are associated with increased early risk of CHD. Perhaps older women with CHD are also more obese, may have diabetes, and may be more susceptible to inflammatory and thrombotic effects of higher doses of estrogens. There are many questions left unanswered. It is hoped that some of the answers may come from the WHI, which is a large prospective trial assessing ERT and HRT. The age range is also relatively large and may be able to determine if older women respond differently than younger women. Some initial data from the WHI have been made available suggesting a small increased risk in the first 2 years and a trend for decreasing risk in the last months of the first 2 years [34]. Just recently, the CEE + MPA arm of the study was stopped early by the data and-safety monitoring board as the overall health risks exceeded benefits with increases in both breast cancer and CVD [97]. The remainder of the study groups including an estrogen-only arm, are expected to continue until 2005.

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