Experimental Physiology

Research Papers

Heart rate variability and endogenous sex hormones during the menstrual cycle in young women

Anthony S. Leicht a1, David A. Hirning a3 and Graham D. Allen a3a5
a1 Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, and a3 Department of Biological and Physical Sciences and a5 Centre for the Assessment of Human Performance, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia


To our knowledge, the relationship between all four endogenous female sex hormones and resting cardiac autonomic function has not been studied. The aim of the current study was to examine the association between the normal endogenous levels of oestrogen (17[beta]-oestradiol), progesterone, luteinising hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone and heart rate variability (HRV) during the menstrual cycle in young eumenorrheic women. Ten healthy, young, female subjects volunteered for this study. HRV and endogenous hormone levels were recorded at three phases of the menstrual cycle: menses (day 3.8 ± 0.5), ovulation (day 15.8 ± 0.7) and luteal (day 22.1 ± 0.4) to ensure HRV recordings at times of low (menses) and high (ovulation and luteal) hormonal influence. Heart rate recordings were obtained from supine resting subjects and analysed on a Holter analysis system. Total power (TP, 0-1.0 Hz), low frequency (LF, 0.041-0.15 Hz), high frequency (HF, 0.15-0.80 Hz) and LF/HF components of HRV were examined. Despite a significantly greater HR at ovulation and normal cyclic variations in all endogenous sex hormone levels, no measure of HRV was significantly different between menstrual cycle phases. Significant correlations between oestrogen levels and absolute measures of HRV at ovulation were identified. The results of the current study demonstrated that the normal cyclic variations in endogenous sex hormone levels during the menstrual cycle were not significantly associated with changes in cardiac autonomic control as measured by HRV. Significant correlation between peak oestrogen levels and HRV measures at ovulation provided further support for the reported cardioprotective effects of oestrogen in healthy females. Experimental Physiology (2003) 88.3, 441-446.

(Received November 28 2002)
(Accepted February 3 2003)