Three new studies explore the role of genes, obesity and alcohol consumption in contributing to - or lessening - the intensity and frequency of hot flashes in midlife women. These studies are part of a five-year research effort led by University of Illinois veterinary biosciences professor Jodi Flaws and colleagues at the University of Maryland, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.
Physicians have long noted that some factors, such as smoking, increase the likelihood that a woman will experience more - or more intense - hot flashes than other women. Race also appears to play a role, with African American women at higher risk than others. But the mechanisms that cause some women to suffer from severe (frequent and intense) hot flashes have remained a mystery.
"Even though more than 40 million women experience hot flashes each year," the authors wrote in their paper published in Maturitas, "little is known about the factors that predispose women to hot flashes."
To examine whether genetics might play a role in hot flashes, Flaws and her colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study involving 639 women aged 45 to 54. The researchers looked at individual differences in the genes that code for various hormones. An earlier study by the same team had found that one of these genetic polymorphisms, in an estrogen metabolizing enzyme, cytochrome P450 1B1, was more common in women who reported higher-than-average frequency, intensity and duration of hot flashes.
The new study tied the same genetic polymorphism to lower levels of an androgen known as DHEA-S, and to lower progesterone levels.
These are the first studies to find evidence of a genetic basis for hot flashes, and the first to look at genetic polymorphisms associated with hormone levels in healthy women with and without hot flashes.
The progesterone finding is of particular interest, said Flaws, because the medical community has focused almost exclusively on the role of low estrogen levels in bringing on hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy, which is sometimes offered to women to alleviate hot flashes or other symptoms of the menopausal transition, may include one or more estrogens alone or in combination with progesterone or an analogue, progestin.
"We think there should be more studies looking at the role of progesterone in causing hot flashes," Flaws said.
The research team identified a second polymorphism, in a gene encoding an enzyme, 3-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which also is associated with an increase in hot flashes.
"People typically didn't think of hot flashes as having a genetic component," Flaws said. "Now we have some evidence that there is at least in part some genetics behind it."
In another paper, published in the journal Climacteric, the researchers used the same data to analyze the link between obesity and hot flashes. They had shown in an earlier study that obesity is associated with more frequent and intense hot flashes in midlife women. They now wanted to see what might be causing this effect: Did the higher incidence of hot flashes in obese women correlate with varying levels of specific hormones or other factors?
When looking at blood levels of specific hormones and related enzymes, the researchers found a significant link between obesity and hormone levels. Higher body mass index (BMI) was significantly correlated with higher testosterone and lower total estradiol, estrone, progesterone and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in midlife women.
The researchers were surprised by the findings related to estrogen, because adipose tissue produces and stores estradiol, the major estrogen in humans. Most people had assumed that obese women would have higher circulating estrogen levels because of this, Flaws said. That assumption turned out to be incorrect, at least for women in midlife.
"It could be that estrogen levels are higher in the fat, but not circulating in the blood," she said. "It's the blood that gets to the brain and to the thermoregulatory centers that govern hot flashes."
A third analysis, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, examined the influence of alcohol consumption on hot flashes in midlife women.
This study attempted to explain an earlier finding that moderate alcohol consumption (up to three drinks per month) actually reduced the severity of hot flashes by 25 percent. This effect vanished in women who consumed more than three drinks per month.
Because alcohol consumption is known to affect metabolism in some animals, the team thought that light drinking might alter sex steroid hormone levels in midlife women. But their analysis failed to turn up any significant hormonal differences between the alcohol users and the women who never used alcohol.
"We don't know why (moderate alcohol consumption) is reducing the risk of hot flashes, other than it doesn't seem to be doing so by changing hormone levels," Flaws said.
Together, these studies point to some risk factors for hot flashes that women can change and others that cannot be changed, Flaws said.
"Body mass index, alcohol use and smoking are three things that can change," she said. "So probably if women quit smoking, and they lose weight, it will reduce their risk. If they (engage in) light drinking, that might also reduce the risk of hot flashes. And then there's the genetic piece, which we can't change."
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour
24.05.2018 | Arizona State University
3D images of cancer cells in the body: Medical physicists from Halle present new method
16.05.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy