A study shows that asthma and other respiratory ailments nearly double in menopausal woman but that estrogen may help protect and repair lungs, according to a study presented to the European Respiratory Society in Stockholm.

A group of 1,300 volunteers ages 45 to 55 were recruited in 21 centers, in nine European countries and the United States. The European team discovered that compared to women with regular menstruation, those who had not had a period for 6 months or longer experience a two-fold increase in asthma attacks. This was particularly true for lean or thin women and overweight women. Normal weight did not seem to be associated with respiratory risks during menopause.

In the US portion of the experiment, a team led by Christiana Dimitropoulou, PhD, Medical College of Georgia, experimented on mice whose ovaries had been removed, administering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to some and a placebo to others. After provoking allergic asthma in all of the animals, it was discovered that estrogen provided significant protection against the bronchial hyperreactivity that characterises asthma attacks. Additionally, HRT was found to reduce the lung inflammation associated with asthma.

The other American team, led by Sami Said, PhD, SUNY, Stony Brook, experimented on guinea pigs whose lungs had been damaged by a chemical toxin and on rats whose airways had suffered either hypoxia or herbicide damage.

“In all three groups, estrogen therapy allowed significant reduction of pulmonary lesions, although these were severe if untreated,” the team said. While estrogen has recently been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and stroke, “[it] cannot be all bad; [it is] probably good for the lungs, and most likely has therapeutic potential,” concluded Said.

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