A $3.3 million grant is to be used to investigate why women with type 1 diabetes are up to three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) when compared to men.
Researchers think the hormone estrogen could be the reason why women are at greater risk of conditions such as heart attacks or angina.
This new study, to be conducted by Augusta University and funded by the National Institutes of Health, will investigate the role of estrogen on blood vessels. Currently, researchers believe estrogen constricts blood vessels in people with diabetes, but the mechanisms behind this aren’t clear.
A total of 90 premenopausal women with type 1 diabetes will be recruited and compared with 30 healthy premenopausal women and 45 men with type 1 diabetes. None of the participants will have CVD prior to the study.
During the study the researchers plan to monitor the women’s natural high and low cycle of their estrogen levels, noting how the changes affect their vascular health using flow-mediated dilation (FMD). The technique measures how the lining of the blood vessels work and can accurately predict the future cardiovascular health of the person.
Some women will be randomised to different antioxidants including vitamin C and resveratrol to assess how this affects the health of blood vessels, while others will receive placebo. The healthy women will not receive any treatment. None of the women will receive extra estrogen.
The participants’ vascular health will be examined before and two hours after treatment or placebo, with researchers aiming to understand why estrogen affects blood vessels and whether certain treatments could help inhibit this effect.
Lead author Dr Ryan Harris, from the Georgia Prevention Institute and Department of Population Health Sciences at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, said: “When you have diabetes, estrogen turns into a bad guy. It actually causes blood vessel constriction when you have high levels of estrogen.
“Once we can identify why estrogen acts like a bad guy, why estrogen causes vasoconstriction instead of vasodilation in these women, then we could introduce non-pharmacological treatments throughout the menstrual cycle that could ultimately reduce their cardiovascular disease risk.”