Defining estradiol’s bad effects on atherosclerosis: targeting safe HRT for women

2014 Otago Community Trust Grant – $25,000

Professor Alison Heather (Dept. of Physiology)

Although most of us would like to ‘stop the clock’ an women especially are keen to try various anti-aging treatments, getting older is unfortunately an inevitable part of life, and for women, so is the menopause. Due to today’s longer life spans, women can expect to spend over a third of their life in their postmenopausal years. A few generations ago, women had to just accept hot flushes, mood swings, and the increase risk of osteoporosis, but the arrival of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the 1960s liberated millions of women from “l’enfer des femmes” (a woman’s hell). HRT is known to have various health benefits, including prevention of dementia, reversing muscle aging and improving bone density, but unfortunately it can also have an adverse effect on the heart.

Athersclerosis is the build-up of fats on the walls of the arteries and calcification of these atherosclerotic plaques, increases the risks of heart attacks and strokes, and it is a major medical problem affecting almost 60% of the population. Hormone therapies that increase estrogen in women (androgens in men), can increase levels of calcification, therefore increasing the risk of heart disease.

The important work being carried out by Professor Alison Heather with financial support from a Community Trust grant, administered by the Foundation, will investigate the mechanism of increased calcification promoted by estrogen, so that more safe and successful HRT can be developed. This will allow women in the future to protect their hearts, whilst having the health benefits of HRT.