Female reproductive hormones exert important non-reproductive influences on autonomic regulation of body temperature and blood pressure. Estradiol and progesterone influence thermoregulation both centrally and peripherally, where estradiol tends to promote heat dissipation, and progesterone tends to promote heat conservation and higher body temperatures. Changes in thermoregulation over the course of the menstrual cycle and with hot flashes at menopause are mediated by hormonal influences on neural control of skin blood flow and sweating. The influence of estradiol is to promote vasodilation, which, in the skin, results in greater heat dissipation. In the context of blood pressure regulation, both central and peripheral hormonal influences are important as well. Peripherally, the vasodilator influence of estradiol contributes to the lower blood pressures and smaller risk of hypertension seen in young women compared to young men. This is in part due to a mechanism by which estradiol augments beta-adrenergic receptor mediated vasodilation, offsetting alpha-adrenergic vasoconstriction, and resulting in a weak relationship between muscle sympathetic nerve activity and total peripheral resistance, and between muscle sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure. After menopause, with the loss of reproductive hormones, sympathetic nerve activity, peripheral resistance and blood pressure become more strongly related, and sympathetic nerve activity (which increases with age) becomes a more important contributor to the prevailing level of blood pressure. Continuing to increase our understanding of sex hormone influences on body temperature and blood pressure regulation will provide important insight for optimization of individualized health care for future generations of women.
Keywords: Aging; Sex differences; Sympathetic nerve activity; Thermoregulation; Women.