(RxWiki News) Menopause, which is the end of menstruation and fertility, causes many changes in a women’s health. A new study shows that a hormone may help fight age-related arterial stiffness, a condition that’s associated with menopause.
University of Colorado researchers found that a specific chemical – tetrahydrobiopterin, or BH4 - can improve vascular function in postmenopausal women, which might, in turn, help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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After menopause, women may develop arterial stiffness – marked by increased pulse pressure – according to many studies. Arterial stiffness can make it easier for plaque to build up inside arterial walls, which may result in coronary atherosclerosis, which is a thickening of the artery walls and a precursor to cardiovascular disease, a major cause of death in elderly women.
In the study, researchers administered BH4 oral treatment to 24 women in postmenopause and 9 women in premenopause. BH4 is a naturally occurring chemical that aids in the production of nitric oxide, which is beneficial to arterial health, say the researchers.
Nitric oxide causes arteries to dilate, and without it, arteries can stiffen and cause high blood pressure, thickening of the left ventricle and may increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and dementia, says lead researcher Dr. Kerrie Moreau, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a statement.
The team measured the arterial stiffness and endothelial dependent vasodilation (the dilation of tissue that lines arteries) before the treatment and three hours after.
Postmenopausal women also received vascular testing after two days of treatment with transdermal estradiol, a sex hormone applied to the skin and used to treat symptoms of menopause. Other women were given a placebo.
They found that estrogen-deficient postmenopausal women who were given BH4 had greater dilation of the arteries while stiffness decreased when the women were examined three hours later. Premenopausal women who were given BH4 experienced no such effect.
The scientists also gave one group of postmenopausal women estrogen patches, while another group of postmenopausal women received a placebo. They found that those who took estrogen experienced similar effects to those given BH4 while the women who received placebos saw no changes.
Women taking estrogen who were also given BH4 experienced no further benefit, say the authors.
This indicates that estrogen may benefit arteries by maintaining BH4 levels, which results in increased nitric oxide and decreased free radicals, which reduces arterial stiffness, says Moreau.
“Menopause is like an accelerated aging process” that’s followed by a significant decline in arterial health, says Moreau.
Identifying the key role BH4 plays in this process helps explain the decline in arterial health and could lead to future prevention, according to the study.
To prevent vascular health decline, we can intervene with appropriate therapeutic strategies such as exercise, diet and/or hormone therapy, says Moreau.
This study is slated to publish in the American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology.