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New Clue to Predict Diseases in Women?

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 9, 2012 -- Evaluating blood levels of a hormone made in the brain and the gut may help predict diseases in women, according to new research.

High levels of the hormone neurotensin appear linked to women’s risk of diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease such as heart disease or stroke, according to Swedish researchers.

The researchers looked at levels of a substance called proneurotensin. It turns into neurotensin.

"Proneurotensin is the first blood biomarker ever that can independently identify elevated risk of three major disease threats to women's health," says Olle Melander, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine at Lund University in Malmo, Sweden. He led the study.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About the Gut Hormone

Neurotensin is released after meals, especially after eating high-fat foods. It's involved in the digestion of food, the speed at which food moves through the gut, body temperature, and pain sensation, Melander says.

More recently, he says, scientists have found it is involved in regulating appetite and feeling full. Some research suggests that neurotensin release is disturbed in obese people.

Now, Melander and others think that the hormone may also affect the risk of heart attack, other cardiovascular diseases, and breast cancer.

Gut Hormone and Disease Study

Melander and his team focused on men and women enrolled in the Malmo Study. It included nearly 29,000 men and women from Malmo, Sweden.

For this study, the researchers focused on 4,632 men and women who had blood levels of proneurotensin measured between 1991 and 1994.

They were then an average age of 57. The researchers followed these men and women until January 2009.

They looked to see who developed diabetes, cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke, or breast cancer, and who died.

For women, but not men, higher levels of the hormone were linked with getting diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as dying.

Overall, the increased risk was 50% for death from cardiovascular disease and 33% for getting cardiovascular disease. But those with the highest levels had an even higher risk.

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