- LOS ANGELES - The male hormone testosterone may be the key
to reducing body fat and building muscle in women after menopause, according
to a new study.
- "As women go through menopause there
is a natural increase in fat," said Dr. Adrian Dobs, the study's lead
investigator. "By adding small doses of androgen with oestrogen to
a woman's body, we may be able to reduce her body fat while also increasing
her lean muscle."
- Many women take estrogens after menopause
to combat symptoms like hot flashes and depression, but levels of male
hormones, or androgens, which are present in low levels in women, also
drop as women age. Yet the impact of androgen decline has been far less
studied than that of oestrogen.
- Research conducted by Johns Hopkins University,
which was to be presented at an Endocrine Society Conference in San Diego
on Saturday, showed for the first time that low doses of oestrogen-androgen
hormone replacement therapy improved body composition in healthy post-menopausal
- Women live an average of 30 years past
menopause, during which their body fat is 20 percent higher than in women
of child-bearing age. Research has also found that women lose nearly 4
percent of muscle mass within the first three years of menopause.
- In the four-month study conducted at
Johns Hopkins, fat tissue in the women receiving oestrogen-androgen therapy
decreased by 2 percent to 4 percent, while lean muscle increased by 4 to
6 percent. Women receiving only oestrogen did not have any body composition
- Forty post-menopausal women, between
48 and 65 years of age, participated in the study. All of them had previously
been on oestrogen replacement therapy for three months or longer.
- "Proper diet, regular exercise and
hormone replacement therapy, such as oestrogen and androgen, may help keep
menopausal women's bodies strong and agile enabling them to lead healthier
and more active lives," Dobs said.
- But the therapy is not without drawbacks.
- "A major concern with testosterone
is a decline in HDL (so-called good cholesterol)," Dobs said. But
she also noted that the study indicated a parallel decline in triglycerides,
which are associated with heart disease.
- "We think the overall effect on
cardiovascular disease may be minimal," Dobs noted.
- As with oestrogen therapy, the hormone
combination also causes symptoms such as breast tenderness, headaches and
nausea. Oestrogen replacement also raises the risk of breast and uterine
- Testosterone is also known to cause unwanted
hair growth, acne and increased libido, Dobs noted.
- Previous research has found that oestrogen-androgen
therapy may also help improve bone density in post-menopausal women.
- "The body's muscular and skeletal
systems work together to help support physical structure and movement.
We need to determine whether this increase in lean mass is associated with
improvement in strength and bone mass," Dobs said.
- She noted that the data was important
for older men and women because bone and muscle mass continue to decrease
while fat mass increases as both sexes age.
- "This research is extremely promising
and we will need to further our studies to better determine what populations
of women would most benefit from it," Dobs said.