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Does testosterone fight artery disease?

The primary male sex hormone testosterone has traditionally been considered a major contributor to heart disease in men. Surprising new findings suggest that this hormone may actually protect men from the clogged arteries that can lead to a heart attack.

What tipped researchers off was evidence that didn't fit the testosterone theory of male heart disease. For example, previous studies showed that men who had suffered a heart attack tended to have abnormally low concentrations of testosterone circulating in their bloodstream. Gerald B. Phillips and his colleagues at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City wondered whether high concentrations of the hormone might actually shield men from heart disease.

To test that theory, the team studied 55 men who had chest pain or other symptoms of atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty debris coats the walls of the arteries. None of the recruits had suffered a heart attack, but all had undergone angiography, a procedure that yields X-ray pictures of the vessels supplying the heart with blood.

The researchers found that men who had low concentrations of testosterone in their blood were significantly more likely to exhibit more serious coronary clogging than their peers with high concenterations of the hormone.

Even when the team excluded men pwho were sick rom other causes or had unsusual hormone readings that might skew the results, the correlation remained statistically strong.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw it," Phillips says, noting that the possibility of the link's occuring by chance is less than 1 in 1,000.

The study is the first to find a relationship between testosterone and the degree of atherosclerosis, the team states in the May ARTERIOSCLEROSIS AND THROMBOSIS, published by the American Heart Association.

A relationship between testostorone and atherosclerosis doesn't necessaryily mean that low concentrations of the hormone lead directly tot he disease. Yet the correlation is so strong that Phillips believes there's more to the testosterone and heart disease story than previously suspected.

It may be that testosterone helps men ward off heart disease, while estrongen, the primary female sex hormone, plays the same role for women, Phillips speculates. Both men and women produce testosterone and estrogen but in varying amounts.

The new findings are preliminary, however. "This has to be confirmed," Phillips cautions.
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Title Annotation:testosterone levels linked to atherosclerosis
Author:Fackelmann, Kathy A.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 28, 1994
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