, Volume 115, Issue 1, pp 171-179
Date: 29 May 2008

Circulating steroid hormone concentrations in postmenopausal women in relation to body size and composition

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Abstract

Steroid hormones are associated with the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer and evidence suggests that increased concentrations of oestrogens from peripheral aromatisation in adipose tissue partly explains the association between body mass index (BMI) and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. This study examined the associations between circulating concentrations of steroid hormones and anthropometric measurements in a sample of naturally postmenopausal women from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, not using hormone replacement therapy. We measured plasma concentration of total oestradiol, oestrone sulphate, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate, androstenedione, testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and calculated concentration of free oestradiol. Body measurements included height, weight, BMI, waist circumference, fat mass and fat-free mass, the last two estimated by bioelectrical impedance analysis. BMI was positively associated with both oestrogens and androgens and negatively with SHBG. Fat mass was the principal measure responsible for the association observed between body size and total oestradiol. The associations between oestrone sulphate and androgens and body size were mainly with waist circumference. The associations between oestrogens and body size were close to null for the first 6 years since menopause and became positive thereafter. Our results are compatible with the hypothesis that after the menopause excess fat mass increases oestrogen concentrations through the peripheral aromatisation of androgens in adipose tissue. This effect requires around 6 years to be detectable by way of circulating steroid hormone levels.