Aims/hypothesis: Recent clinical trials have found that the combination of conjugated equine oestrogen (CEO) and medroxyprogesterone has a protective effect on the incidence of type 2 diabetes. To determine the effect of CEO alone on the incidence of diabetes mellitus in postmenopausal women, we analysed the results of the Women's Health Initiative oestrogen-alone trial.
Methods: The Women's Health Initiative is a randomised, double-masked trial comparing the effect of daily 0.625 mg CEO with placebo during 7.1 years of follow-up of 10,739 postmenopausal women who were aged 50-79 years and had previously had a hysterectomy. Diabetes incidence was ascertained by self-report of treatment with insulin or oral hypoglycaemic medication. Fasting glucose, insulin and lipoproteins were measured in an 8.6% random sample of study participants, at baseline and at 1, 3 and 6 years.
Results: The cumulative incidence of treated diabetes was 8.3% in the oestrogen-alone group and 9.3% in the placebo group (hazard ratio 0.88, 95% CI 0.77-1.01, p=0.072). During the first year of follow-up, a significant fall in insulin resistance (homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance) in actively treated women compared with the control subjects (Year 1 baseline between-group difference -0.53) was seen. However, there was no difference in insulin resistance at the 3- or 6-year follow-up.
Conclusions/interpretation: Postmenopausal therapy with oestrogen alone may reduce the incidence of treated diabetes. The effect is smaller than that seen with oestrogen plus progestin. CEO should not, however, be used with the intention of preventing diabetes, as its well-described adverse effects preclude long-term use for primary prevention.