By Joseph M. Kowalski, M.D.
Director of Investigational Interventions
Cardiovascular Institute of the South
A new epidemiological study suggests that the
heart benefits of estrogen supplements for post menopausal women continue quite late in life.
The study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical School found a 30 percent reduction in heart
disease in white women age 65 to 74 who take estrogen supplements. The findings reinforce previous government research that
revealed a 25 percent reduction in heart disease among women age 45 to 64 who took estrogen supplements.
Women rarely experience heart attacks before menopause. Researchers believe that estrogen offers
some protection against the blood vessel blockage that causes heart attacks and strokes. Studies suggest that estrogen increases
the "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lowers the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood, thus slowing the
rate at which plaque builds up in the arteries.
Another recent report that strongly suggested a connection between estrogen levels and lower
rates of heart attack came out of ongoing research at Harvard Medical School. The analysis of 32,000 nurses for four years
in the Nurses Cohort Study showed that those taking estrogen appeared to have one half the risk of heart attack of those not
taking the hormone.
The Harvard study also showed that women who go through early menopause (before age 40) have
a significantly higher risk of heart disease. The study and its findings link the ovaries and its hormones --- estrogen and
progesterone --- to heart health.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine co-authored by investigators
at Harvard Medical School and its affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, "...post menopausal women who take estrogen generally
have lower rates of cardiovascular disease than women of similar age who do not take estrogen."
In the 1970s, when estrogen was first prescribed as a birth control measure for women, researchers
feared elevated doses of estrogen would put women at higher risk for stroke and high blood pressure. Studies in the past 35
years have not confirmed those fears. Instead, they persist in showing that estrogen supplements for post-menopausal women
provide a prolongation of the natural protection from heart disease they enjoyed in their child-bearing years.