Women tend to suffer less from cardiovascular disease than men, but this difference becomes less marked post-menopause.
This observation is behind a great deal of received wisdom, where oestrogen is assumed to have a beneficial effect on the heart and blood vessels. Today, new data seems to question these assumptions.
A study has been conducted by a team of researchers at Paris-based Inserm (Institut national de la sante et de la recherche medicale - National Institute of Health and Medical Research), led by Pierre-Yves Scarabin, on 6,000 women aged over 65.
The results demonstrate, for the first time, that women with high levels of oestradiol (one of the oestrogen hormones) in their blood are exposed to a greater risk of myocardial infarction (heart attacks) or strokes, the Journal of the American Heart Association reports.
Oestrogen hormones play a key role in sexual development and reproduction in women. Its blood levels are particularly high during the active reproductive period, according to an Inserm statement.
After menopause, the ovarian function ceases, leading to a significant drop in oestrogen levels in the blood. However, low concentrations of these hormones do continue to circulate and may still exert biological actions.
Throughout their lives, women are less exposed to the risk of cardiovascular disease than men. For many years, this relative immunity displayed by women was attributed to oestrogen undertaking a ‘protector’ role in terms of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and its complications.
Now for the first time, the Inserm results demonstrate that high oestrodial levels in the blood lead to an elevated risk of myocardial infarction or strokes.
This new data questions the beneficial role of oestrogen on the heart and vessels. “Fresh studies must confirm this harmful effect and establish whether these results can be applied to younger menopausal women,” stated Pierre-Yves Scarabin.