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Original articles  

The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2001 March;41(1):83-8

language: English

Effect of oral contraceptives on peripheral blood flow in untrained women at rest and during exercise

Cottingham M. A., Smith J. D., Criswell D. S.

From the Department of Kinesiology Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX, USA


Background. Endothelium-­derived ­nitric ­oxide is an impor­tant medi­a­tor of exer­cise-­induced chang­es in skel­e­tal mus­cle ­blood ­flow. Given the recent­ly doc­u­ment­ed ­effects of estro­gens on ­nitric ­oxide syn­thase, it is hypoth­e­sized ­that ­oral con­tra­cep­tives (OC) con­tain­ing estro­gen ­would ­increase ­nitric ­oxide pro­duc­tion at ­rest and ­after endu­rance exer­cise. Further, we pos­tu­lat­ed ­that OC use ­would aug­ment skel­e­tal mus­cle ­blood ­flow at ­rest and dur­ing exer­cise.
Methods. Fourteen wom­en (non-smok­ers) ­were divid­ed ­into two ­groups: control (CON; sed­en­tary, nor­mal men­stru­al-­cycling wom­en who ­have not ­used ­oral con­tra­cep­tives for ≥12 ­mons; 18-38 yrs old; n=7), and ­oral con­tra­cep­tive ­users (OC; sed­en­tary wom­en who ­have ­been ­using low-­dose estro­gen/pro­ges­tin ­oral con­tra­cep­tives for ≥12 ­mons; 19-38 yrs old; n=7). Measurements of fore­arm ­blood ­flow ­were ­obtained ­from ­each ­group, ­using ­strain ­gauge ple­thys­mog­ra­phy, at ­rest and dur­ing an exer­cise pro­to­col in ­which inter­mit­tent hand­grip exer­cise was per­formed at 15%, 30%, and 45% of max­i­mum vol­un­tary con­trac­tion (MVC). Additionally, ­venous ­blood sam­ples ­were tak­en ­before and ­after a 90 min tread­mill ­walk for meas­ure­ment of ser­um ­nitrate/­nitrite, an indi­rect assess­ment of ­steady-­state ­nitric ­oxide pro­duc­tion.
Results. There was no dif­fer­ence in fore­arm ­blood ­flow (ml/min/ 100 cc tis­sue) at ­rest (CON=2.7; OC=2.8); how­ev­er, the hyper­em­ic ­response to hand­grip exer­cise was sig­nif­i­cant­ly (p<0.05) low­er in the OC ­group at 30% (9.0 vs CON=14.2) and 45% (12.0 vs CON=17.0) of MVC. Serum ­nitrate val­ues at ­rest and fol­low­ing 90 min of tread­mill walk­ing did not dif­fer ­between ­groups (p>0.05).
Conclusions. Contrary to our hypoth­e­ses, ­these ­data indi­cate a com­pro­mised hyper­em­ic ­response in the fore­arm of OC ­users. Further, chron­ic OC use may not ­affect ­nitric ­oxide pro­duc­tion dur­ing low inten­sity tread­mill exer­cise.

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