New markers for cardiovascular disease risk in women: Impact of endogenous estrogen status and exogenous postmenopausal hormone therapy

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The role of estrogen in altering cardiovascular disease risk in women is contentious. Menopause is associated with increased risk for ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, which collectively are the main causes of morbidity and mortality in women of developed nations. Observational studies suggest a protective role of estrogen, whereas recent randomized controlled trials report a negative role for oral estrogen in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular events. Inflammatory mechanisms underlie the process of arterial thrombus formation following atheromatous plaque rupture, and as such modulation of the inflammatory process may be a potential means of reducing cardiovascular risk. Sex steroids may influence inflammatory processes and hence modify cardiovascular risk. The objective of the study was to review the current understanding of the relationships between C-reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine, IL-6, and lipoprotein (a) [Lp(a)] and endogenous estrogen status, exogenous estrogen treatment, and cardiovascular disease risk. The design was a review of all relevant published, peer-reviewed studies. Raised levels of CRP, homocysteine, Lp(a), IL-6, and CRP are each independently associated with increased risk for cardiovascular events in women. Changes in these parameters across the menopausal transition cannot clearly be attributed to hormonal changes. With respect to the effects of exogenous postmenopausal therapy, oral estrogen use is consistently associated with elevations in CRP, no change or a reduction in homocysteine, varied effects on IL-6, and a consistent reduction in Lp(a). Transdermal estradiol overall has no significant effect on any of these parameters. Progestin use appears to attenuate the effect of oral estrogen on CRP and is associated with a reduction in Lp(a). Like oral estrogen, tibolone use is associated with a rise in CRP, with no change in homocysteine and consistent lowering of Lp(a). Selective estrogen receptor modulators modestly lower homocysteine and Lp(a), have varied effects on CRP, and have no reported effects on IL-6. Despite these varied effects of postmenopausal hormone treatment on inflammatory markers, homocysteine, and Lp(a), there is no evidence that change in these markers results in modification of cardiovascular risk. Further studies are required to specifically investigate whether treatments that increase or decrease these markers in fact modulate the risk of cardiovascular events in women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2470-2478
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes

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