Sex steroids and markers of micro- and macrovascular damage among women and men from the general population

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AIMS: The contribution of sex hormones to micro- and macrovascular damage might differ among women and men. In particular, little is known about the association between sex hormones and small vessel disease. Therefore, we examined the association of total oestradiol, total testosterone, free-androgen index (FAI), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and androstenedione levels with micro- and macrovascular diseases.

METHODS AND RESULTS: This cross-sectional study included 2950 women and 2495 men from the population-based Rotterdam Study. As proxy of microvascular damage, we measured diameters of retinal arterioles and venules. Markers of macrovascular damage included carotid intima-media thickness and carotid plaque, coronary artery calcification (CAC), and peripheral artery disease. Linear and logistic regression models were used and adjusted for age, cardiovascular risk factors, and years since menopause. Associations with microvasculature: In women, total testosterone [mean difference per 1-unit increase in natural-log transformed total testosterone (95% confidence interval, CI): 2.59 (0.08-5.09)] and androstenedione [4.88 (1.82-7.95)] and in men DHEAS [2.80 (0.23-5.37)] and androstenedione [5.83 (2.19-9.46)] were associated with larger venular caliber. Associations with markers of large vessel disease: In women, higher total testosterone [-0.29 (-0.56 to -0.03)], FAI [-0.33 (-0.56 to -0.10)], and androstenedione levels [-0.33 (-0.64 to -0.02)] were associated with lower CAC burden and FAI [odds ratio (95% CI): 0.82 (0.71-0.94)] was associated with lower prevalence of plaque.

CONCLUSION: A more androgenic profile was associated with more microvascular damage in both women and men. Among women, however, higher androgen levels were also associated with less macrovascular damage. Our findings suggest that androgens might have distinct effects on the vasculature, depending on the vascular bed and stages of the atherosclerosis process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1322-1330
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Preventive Cardiology
Issue number9
Early online date6 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Rotterdam Study is funded by Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands Organization for the Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE), the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Sports, the European Commission (DG XII), and the Municipality of Rotterdam. Further support was obtained from the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing and the Dutch Heart Foundation (2012T008) and the Dutch Cancer Society (NKI- 20157737). Maryam Kavousi is supported by the VENI grant (91616079) from ZonMw. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


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