Sex hormone levels and subclinical atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

Pamela Ouyang*, Dhananjay Vaidya, Adrian Dobs, Sherita Hill Golden, Moyses Szklo, Susan R. Heckbert, Peter Kopp, Susan M. Gapstur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


We examined cross-sectional associations between sex hormones and carotid artery intimal-medial thickness (cIMT) and coronary artery calcium in women in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Serum testosterone, estradiol, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and dehydroepiandrosterone levels were measured in 1947 postmenopausal women aged 45-84 years (30% White, 14% Chinese-American, 31% Black, and 25% Hispanic) and not on hormone therapy. Using multiple linear regression we evaluated associations between log(sex hormone) levels and log(cIMT) adjusted for age, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI) and cardiac risk factors. Associations between sex hormone levels and the presence and extent of coronary calcium were evaluated. Total and bioavailable testosterone were positively associated with common cIMT independent of age, BMI, hypertension, smoking, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and insulin sensitivity (p = 0.009 and p = 0.002, respectively). SHBG was negatively associated with common cIMT (p = 0.001) but further adjustment for BMI, cardiovascular risk factors, and LDL- and HDL-cholesterol removed significance. Estradiol and dehydroepiandrosterone were not associated with common cIMT. Sex hormones were not associated with presence of coronary calcium. Among women with measurable coronary calcium, higher SHBG (p = 0.012) and lower bioavailable testosterone (p = 0.007) were associated with greater coronary calcium score. No heterogeneity by ethnicity was found. In postmenopausal women, testosterone is independently associated with greater common cIMT. SHBG is negatively associated and this may be mediated by LDL- and HDL-cholesterol. In contrast, SHBG and testosterone were associated with extent of coronary calcium but in the opposite direction compared to carotid intimal-medial thickness. These differences warrant further evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-261
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Carotid intimal-medial thickness
  • Coronary calcium
  • Gonadal steroid hormones
  • Postmenopausal women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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