Unusually low levels of the male hormone testosterone may signal an increased heart attack risk in postmenopausal women, according to a California study.
Gail Laughlin and Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor of the University of California, San Diego, studied 678 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 90 years who were not using estrogen replacement therapy. The researchers measured sex hormone levels during a clinic visit and tracked heart attacks, related medical procedures and deaths over the next 20 years.
Women whose testosterone levels were in the lowest one-fifth of the group had a twofold increased risk for pre-existing and new cases of heart disease, as well as death related to heart disease, compared with women who had higher levels.
“We did not find that having high levels of testosterone was protective for women. Instead what we found was that women who have unusually low levels are at increased risk of heart disease,” says Laughlin, an assistant adjunct professor of family and preventive medicine.
However, she says more research is needed on whether testosterone treatments would help these women. And she adds that the study results apply only to postmenopausal women not taking estrogen pills.