Does estrogen fluctuation throughout the menstrual cycle impact flow-mediated dilation during exercise in healthy premenopausal women?
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The endothelium is the inner most layer of cells that lines all arteries. A primary function of endothelial cells is to regulate responses to increased blood flow and the resulting frictional forces or shear stress by producing factors such as nitric oxide that mediate arterial dilation (flow mediated dilation (FMD)). Menstrual cycle variations in estrogen (E2) have been shown to influence brachial artery (BA) FMD in response to transient increases in shear stress brought about by the release of a brief forearm occlusion (reactive hyperemia (RH)). FMD can also be assessed in response to a sustained shear stress stimulus such as that created with handgrip exercise (HGEX), and studies have shown that RH- and HGEX stimulated FMD provide unique information regarding endothelial function. However, the impact of menstrual phase on HGEX-FMD is unknown. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the impact of cyclical changes in E2 levels on HGEX-FMD over two discrete phases of the menstrual cycle. FMD was assessed via ultrasound. 12 subjects (21 ± 2yrs) completed two experimental visits: (1) low estrogen phase (early follicular) and (2) High estrogen phase (late follicular). In each visit both RH- and HGEX-FMD (6 min handgrip exercise) were assessed. Results are mean ± SD. E2 increased from the low to the high estrogen phase of the menstrual cycle (low: 34 ± 8, high: 161 ± 113pg/mL, p = 0.004). There was no change in mean FMD between phases (RH-FMD: 7.7 ± 4.3% vs. 6.4 ± 3.1%, p = 0.139; HGEX-FMD: 4.8 ± 2.8% vs. 4.8 ± 2.3%, p = 0.979). The observation that both RH- and HGEX-FMD did not differ between phases indicates that menstrual cycle fluctuations in estrogen may not universally impact endothelial function in young, healthy premenopausal women. Further research is needed to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie variability in the impact of menstrual phase on both transient and sustained FMD responses.