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Females, alcohol and hormones

  • Women are more vulnerable than men to the negative medical consequences of alcohol use.
  • New research using two animal models examines the potency of alcohol on brain mechanisms.
  • Results indicate that the females are actually less sensitive to the sedating effects of alcohol.
  • Alcohols effects also appear to be mediated by different phases of the estrous cycle.

Although women consume less alcohol than men, they are more susceptible to some of the negative medical consequences of alcohol use, such as cirrhosis of the liver, cardiac disease, and cognitive impairments. Animal studies have also shown that males and females differ on behavioral as well as electrophysiological measures of alcohol's effects. A study in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that female rats are not only less sensitive to the sedating effects of alcohol, but that cycling hormonal levels can mediate alcohol's effects.

"Despite the fact that men outnumber women in terms of having alcohol-related problems, women are more vulnerable to many of the effects of alcohol use," said the study's first author, Young May Cha, a research analyst at Duke University Medical Center. "In both humans and animal models, females can drink less and for a shorter period of time, and yet experience the same level of effects produced in males. This 'telescoping' phenomenon strongly suggests that there is something unique about the female sex that lends it to being so susceptible to alcohol's effects."

Cha and her colleagues decided to use an animal model to examine what effects the adult females' estrous cycles might have on alcohol's effects. "The four stages of the rat estrous cycle can be viewed as similar to the different stages of the human menstrual cycle," she explained. "In both humans and rats, sex hormone levels rise and fall in a cyclical pattern. Furtherm
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3-Jan-2006


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