Objective: The amount of bone mass and the tendency to fall are main risk factors for hip fractures and both deteriorate with advancing age. The dynamics between estrogen exposure and fracture protection seem too rapid to be explained by an effect on bone mass only. Postural balance function may be another potential mechanism for the fracture-protecting effect of estrogens.
Study design: We examined 16 long-term users of 17 beta-estradiol implants (20 mg) (mean age 67.9 years and mean duration of treatment 17.3 years [3.3 to 34 years]) and 16 age-matched (+/-2 years) nonusers (mean age 68.3 years). Postural balance (sway velocity) was measured by static posturography before and after blindfolding and application of vibration stimulus (20 to 100 Hz) to the calf muscles to disturb the proprioception and to induce imbalance.
Results: Sway velocities were significantly lower in estrogen users than in nonusers (p = 0.0067) and similar to those in young premenopausal women. The differences were accentuated after provocation by blindfolding and by increasing frequencies of vibration stimulus to the calf muscle. Serum levels of estradiol and estradiol/sex hormone-binding globulin were negatively and follicle-stimulating hormone levels positively associated with sway velocity (p = 0.0194, p = 0.0036, and p = 0.0052, respectively) and independent of age (p = 0.02 to 0.005), supporting causality between estrogen exposure and postural balance.
Conclusions: These data indicate that postural balance function is better preserved in long-term estrogen users than in nonusers. Effects on postural balance function may be one mechanism explaining the rapid increase in distal forearm fractures early after menopause and the rapid dynamics between estrogen exposure and hip fracture protection and may potentially reduce the fracture risk in elderly women starting estrogen replacement therapy in spite of marginal increases in bone mass.