Hormones Can Play Shield Too

Estrogens role in urinary tract infections examined

(RxWiki News) Female sex hormones have a number of jobs to do. While they can regulate mood and sexual function, they might also help protect women from infection.

A recently published study found that estrogen could play a role in protecting the urinary tract from infection.

The research showed that estrogen helps promote the body's production of proteins that act like antibiotics, called antimicrobial peptides.

"Talk to your OB/GYN about estrogen supplements."

The study, led by Petra Lüthje, from the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, looked at how estrogen supplements after menopause affected UTI infections and whether they'd return.

The investigators then looked at cells from the uterus and bladder walls of two groups of women.

Women were placed in the first group if they were still able to have periods. They ranged between 18 and 40 years of age. None were pregnant and no one used hormonal birth control.

The second group consisted of women past menopause who were between 45 and 65 years old. The women had had their last period at least a year before the study began and no one received any hormonal preparations.

Women who had an ongoing UTI, cancer, abnormalities with their urinary tract or other severe general health issues were excluded from the study.

The postmenopausal women were given 25 micrograms of estradiol (Vagifem, Novo Nordisk Pharma) over a two-week period. The researchers gathered participants' cell samples before and after taking the estrogen supplements.

The researchers also collected urine and venous blood samples from each of the women.

The estrogen caused the production of certain antimicrobial peptides in the bladder, the researchers found.

The hormone pulled together and closed gaps in the cells to strengthen the urinary tract tissue, according to the researchers. As a result, bacteria could not access the deeper layers of the bladder wall.

The urine samples showed signs of "cell gluing" and increased production of antimicrobial peptides, the researchers said in a press release.

"Our findings demonstrate that estradiol acts as a two-edged sword in the context of UTI," the researchers wrote in their report. "On the basis of the data presented here, estradiol supplementation appears to be a beneficial modulator of urothelial immune defense in postmenopausal women suffering from recurrent cystitis."

The authors noted they did not consider all the physiological changes that occur during menopause. 

The study was published online June 19 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The authors declared no competing interests.

The Swedish Research Council grants, ALF project funds, Karolinska Institutet funds and the Swedish Cancer Society grant supported the study.

Review Date: 
June 19, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013