BACKGROUND: We have shown previously that oestrogens attenuate cardiovascular and hormonal responses to stress in perimenopausal women. The cardiovascular role of oestrogens in men is uncertain, despite preliminary evidence that endogenous oestrogens produced by aromatization of androgenic precursors are of physiological importance; hypogonadal men have very low levels of circulating oestrogen. METHODS: We therefore studied the haemodynamic and hormonal responses to a standardized laboratory mental stress test in 12 men (mean age 68.9±2.6 SEM years) rendered hypogonadal as a result of treatment for prostatic cancer, before and after 8 weeks of oestrogen supplementation (oestradiol valerate 1 mg daily, n = 7) or placebo (n = 5). The stress was administered as a standard mental arithmetic test of 10 minutes' duration. Blood pressure, cortisol and ACTH were measured at baseline, and following 5 minutes and 10 minutes of stress, and ACTH again at 25 minutes on both days. Noradrenaline and adrenaline responses to mental stress, as well as changes in total body and forearm spillover of noradrenaline and noradrenaline clearance, were also measured. RESULTS: Oestrogen supplementation was well tolerated, with minimal adverse effects. Mean oestradiol levels increased from < 30 pmol/l to 308±65 pmol/l after oestrogen treatment. Oestradiol significantly attenuated the mental stress-induced increase in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Oestradiol also attenuated mental stress-induced increases in ACTH, cortisol and adrenaline, but did not influence either total body or forearm spillover of noradrenaline. Responses to stress were unchanged after administration of placebo. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that oestrogen supplementation in men rendered hypogonadal as a result of treatment for prostate cancer is well tolerated and significantly attenuates blood pressure and hormonal responses to psychological stress. These findings suggest the need for further studies to examine a possible clinical role for oestrogen treatment in hypogonadal men.