Effects of Estrogen and Opioid Blockade on Blood Pressure Reactivity to Stress in Postmenopausal Women

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Annals of Behavioral Medicine




Estrogen may influence coronary heart disease risk in women through the effects of endogenous opioids on autonomic control of blood pressure. In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, we examined the combined effects of estrogen and the opioid antagonist, naltrexone, on blood pressure responses to psychological stress in 42 postmenopausal women. After 3 months of estrogen or estrogen plus progestin (hormone replacement therapy; n = 27) or placebo replacement, participants completed a mental arithmetic task after administration of .7 mg/kg oral naltrexone or placebo. Systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and heart rate (HR) were measured at rest and during the arithmetic stressor. Stress produced significant increases in circulatory measures regardless of estrogen condition or opioid blockade (p’s < .001). Interestingly, there was an estrogen by naltrexone interaction on SBP reactivity scores [F(1,38) = 4.36, p < .05], where women on estrogen with intact opioid receptors showed the largest SBP responses to stress, compared with all other conditions. This is consistent with some studies of premenopausal women, suggesting that estrogens may alter opioid function during stress. The interaction between estrogen and endogenous opioids may explain sex differences in opioid effects on stress reactivity in younger premenopausal women.