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Effects of gender-affirming hormone therapy on insulin resistance and body composition in transgender individuals: A systematic review.

BACKGROUND: Transgender individuals receiving masculinising or feminising gender-affirming hormone therapy with testosterone or estradiol respectively, are at increased risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes, including myocardial infarction and stroke. This may be related to the effects of testosterone or estradiol therapy on body composition, fat distribution, and insulin resistance but the effect of gender-affirming hormone therapy on these cardiovascular risk factors has not been extensively examined.

AIM: To evaluate the impact of gender-affirming hormone therapy on body composition and insulin resistance in transgender individuals, to guide clinicians in minimising cardiovascular risk.

METHODS: We performed a review of the literature based on PRISMA guidelines. MEDLINE, Embase and PsycINFO databases were searched for studies examining body composition, insulin resistance or body fat distribution in transgender individuals aged over 18 years on established gender-affirming hormone therapy. Studies were selected for full-text analysis if they investigated transgender individuals on any type of gender-affirming hormone therapy and reported effects on lean mass, fat mass or insulin resistance.

RESULTS: The search strategy identified 221 studies. After exclusion of studies that did not meet inclusion criteria, 26 were included (2 cross-sectional, 21 prospective-uncontrolled and 3 prospective-controlled). Evidence in transgender men suggests that testosterone therapy increases lean mass, decreases fat mass and has no impact on insulin resistance. Evidence in transgender women suggests that feminising hormone therapy (estradiol, with or without anti-androgen agents) decreases lean mass, increases fat mass, and may worsen insulin resistance. Changes to body composition were consistent across almost all studies: Transgender men on testosterone gained lean mass and lost fat mass, and transgender women on oestrogen experienced the reverse. No study directly contradicted these trends, though several small studies of short duration reported no changes. Results for insulin resistance are less consistent and uncertain. There is a paucity of prospective controlled research, and existing prospective evidence is limited by small sample sizes, short follow up periods, and young cohorts of participants.

CONCLUSION: Further research is required to further characterise the impact of gender-affirming hormone therapy on body composition and insulin resistance in the medium-long term. Until further evidence is available, clinicians should aim to minimise risk by monitoring cardiovascular risk markers regularly in their patients and encouraging healthy lifestyle modifications.

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