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'Unexpected finding' gives clue into obesity risk for postmenopausal women



An "unexpected finding" has allowed scientists to link oestrogen deficiency to obesity in female mice, providing new insights for postmenopausal women.

Researchers from LaTrobe University found a deficiency of oestrogen receptor alpha (ERα) in the heart causes obesity in female mice but not in male mice.

Once women are postmenopausal and oestrogen levels drop, they are at an increased risk of a number of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

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Scientists were trying to discover the role of the oestrogen receptor in the heart to see how much protection it provides when they made the unexpected findings.

"When we blocked this oestrogen receptor, we were expecting to see changes and damage largely to the heart but rather than seeing a dramatic heart phenotype, what we saw was an adiposity (obesity) phenotype," lead author professor Julie McMullen said.

"So, we observed that the female mice were heavier and had more fat mass, which we weren't expecting at all.

"Rather than energy being expended, energy is instead stored, which explains the increased adiposity in female mice in the absence of ERα (estrogen)."

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The research has implications for preventing and treating heart and metabolic disease in postmenopausal women.

"Females who have drugs which can interact with or inhibit this particular receptor, including some chemotherapies, often become obese," McMullen said.

"Now we have a better understanding of ERα, we've got a better chance of identifying therapies to prevent the obesity from occurring."

The study was supported by the Heart Foundation.

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