Lipoprotein(a), menopause, and andropause

Lipoprotein(a) is a curious lipoprotein. Not only is it a genetic pattern with numerous variations, it is also one that shows a predictable age-dependent rise.

Women in particular are prone to this effect, men to a lesser degree. As we age, many hormones recede, particularly growth hormone, testosterone, the estrogens (estradiol, estriol, estrone), progesterone, and DHEA, among others. This is not a disease but the process of senescence, or aging.

When we're young, estrogens, testosterone, and DHEA all exert suppressive effects to keep lipoprotein(a), Lp(a), at bay. But as a woman proceeds through her pre-menopausal and menopausal years, and as a male passes through his fourth decade, there is an accelerated decline of these hormones. As a result, Lp(a) crawls out of its cave and starts to sniff around.

Typically, a woman might have a Lp(a) of 75 nmol/l (approximately 30 mg/dl) at age 38. Ten years later, at age 48, her Lp(a) might be 125 nmol/l (app. 50 mg/dl), all due to the decline of estrogens and DHEA. A parallel situation develops in males due to the drop in testosterone. For this reason, it may be necessary to re-check Lp(a) once after the fourth decade of life if you've had a level checked in your younger years.

This opens up some interesting therapeutic possibilities. If receding hormones are responsible for unleashing Lp(a), hormones can be replenished to reduce it. In males, this is relatively straightforward: supplement human testosterone and Lp(a) drops about 25%.

In women, however, it's a bit murkier, thanks to the negative experince reported using horse estrogens (AKA Premarin) in the HERS Trial and Women's Health Initiative. You'll recall that women who take horse estrogens and progestins (synthetic progesterone) do not experience less heart attack and develop a slightly increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer. There was, however, a poorly-publicized sub-study that showed that women with Lp(a) experience up to 50% fewer heart attacks on the horse/synthetic combination.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a large trial examining the safety/advisability of human estrogens and progesterone? To my knowledge, no such confident study in a significant number of women exists, since there's so little money to be made with human hormonal preparations.

For these reasons, we use lots of DHEA, generally at doses of 25 to 50 mg per day. It makes most people feel good, boosts energy modestly, increases muscle, and reduces Lp(a) up to 18% in women, a lesser quantity in men.