UW News

April 10, 1997

UW begins study of effects of estrogen lack on women’s heart disease

A study of the effects of estrogen deficiency on body-fat distribution and cholesterol metabolism has been launched by the University of Washington, to determine why and how the risk of coronary artery disease increases in women as they age.
The two-year study, a joint effort of the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing, will be supported by a $200,000 grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s “Better Health for Women: A Global Health Program.”

Many middle-aged men develop abdominal fat, as a result of a combination of genetic tendencies and lifestyle factors like physical inactivity and diet. Before menopause, most women are protected from accumulating abdominal fat and from coronary artery disease. But after menopause, women develop the same tendency as men to accumulate abdominal fat, reflecting their increasing risk for coronary artery disease.

“There is a lack of studies of women from pre-menopause through menopause focusing on risk factors for coronary artery disease,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. John D. Brunzell, professor of medicine and director of the UW’s Clinical Research Center. “The increased risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women is partly due to a change in cholesterol metabolism. We will study the entire menopause transition to determine when and how this change takes place. We will also look at the benefits of beginning estrogen replacement early in women who are particularly at risk.”

Other studies have shown that estrogen replacement therapy may decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, the number one cause of death in post-menopausal women.

Participants in the study will be recruited by the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study, headed since 1990 by Dr. Nancy F. Woods, professor and associate dean for research in the UW School of Nursing, and Dr. Ellen Mitchell, associate professor of nursing.

“Women who have participated in the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study will be invited to join this new study,” said Woods. “Participants will have a blood sample analyzed for blood fats, and some will be invited to participate in additional testing as they go through the transition to menopause.”

“We believe this project will have a profound impact in helping improve the health of women,” said John L. Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.