Alcohol, height, and adiposity in relation to estrogen and prolactin levels in postmenopausal women

Susan E. Hankinson, Walter C. Willett, Joann E. Manson, David J. Hunter, Graham A. Colditz, Meir J. Stampfer, Christopher Longcope, Frank E. Speizer

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Background: Alcohol use, height, and postmenopausal adiposity have each been positively associated with postmenopausal breast cancer risk in most epidemiologic studies. The mechanism underlying these associations is unclear, although an effect of these factors on hormone levels has been hypothesized. Few previous studies have evaluated the relationship of either alcohol consumption or height with plasma hormone levels. A positive association between adiposity and plasma estrogen levels in postmenopausal women has been reported consistently. Purpose: Using archived frozen plasma samples and corresponding data from participants in the Nurses' Health Study, we determined plasma hormone levels and assessed these levels in relation to alcohol consumption, height, and adiposity among postmenopausal women. Methods: Blood samples were collected from a subset of participants in the Nurses' Health Study in 1989 and 1990, then stored in liquid nitrogen. Hormone concentrations in 217 archived plasma samples (from healthy postmenopausal women) were analyzed in 1993. Spearman correlation coefficients were calculated to assess the linear association between alcohol consumption during the previous year (mean daily intake in grams per day ascertained from semiquantitative food-frequency questionnaires completed in 1990 or 1991), height, and adiposity (as measured by body mass index [BMI] in kg/m2, with weight reported at time of blood collection), and plasma hormone levels. Two-sided P values were also calculated. Results: After controlling for age, height, smoking status, and BMI, alcohol consumption was positively associated with estrone sulfate concentrations (r =.17; P =.02); no statistically significant association was noted for the other plasma hormones measured. Mean plasma estrone sulfate levels were 159 pg/mL in women who reported no alcohol use versus 211 pg/mL in women consuming 30 g or more of alcohol per day. After adjusting for the other covariates, we observed a strong positive correlation between BMI and plasma estrogens (r ranging from.37 for estrone and estrone sulfate to.63 for bioavailable estradiol, with all P values <.01; prolactin was the only hormone unassociated with BMI, r =.01). Height was unrelated to either plasma estrogens or prolactin. Conclusions: BMI and alcohol use were positively associated with postmenopausal plasma estrogen and estrone sulfate levels, respectively. Implications: The association of alcohol consumption and postmenopausal obesity with subsequent breast cancer risk might be mediated, at least in part, through an influence on postmenopausal plasa estrogen levels. Additional studies are needed to further quantify the relationship between alcohol consumption and plasma hormone levels and to elucidate the physiologic basis for this association. [J Natl Cancer Inst 1995; 87: 1297-1302]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1297-1302
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 6 1995


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