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Muscle strength, size and composition following 12 months of gender-affirming treatment in transgender individuals: retained advantage for the transwomen

By A Wiik, TR Lundberg, E Rullman, DP Andersson, M Holmberg, M Mandić, TB Brismar, O Dahlqvist Leinhard, S Chanpen, J Flanagan, S Arver, T Gustafsson

Posted 26 Sep 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/782557

Objectives: This study explored the effects of gender-affirming treatment, which includes inhibition of endogenous sex hormones and replacement with cross-sex hormones, on muscle function, size and composition in 11 transwomen (TW) and 12 transmen (TM). Methods: Isokinetic knee extensor and flexor muscle strength was assessed at baseline (T00), 4 weeks after gonadal suppression of endogenous hormones but before hormone replacement (T0), and 3 (T3) and 11 (T12) months after hormone replacement. In addition, at T00 and T12, we assessed lower-limb muscle volume using MRI, and cross-sectional area (CSA) and radiological density using CT. Results: Thigh muscle volume increased (15%) in TM, which was paralleled by increased quadriceps CSA (15%) and radiological density (6%). In TW, the corresponding parameters decreased by -5% (muscle volume) and -4% (CSA), while density remained unaltered. The TM increased strength over the assessment period, while the TW generally maintained or slightly increased in strength. Baseline muscle volume correlated highly with strength (R>0.75), yet the relative change in muscle volume and strength correlated only moderately (R=0.65 in TW and R=0.32 in TM). The absolute levels of muscle volume and knee extension strength after the intervention still favored the TW. Conclusion: Cross-sex hormone treatment markedly affects muscle strength, size and composition in transgender individuals. Despite the robust increases in muscle mass and strength in TM, the TW were still stronger and had more muscle mass following 12 months of treatment. These findings add new knowledge that could be relevant when evaluating transwomen's eligibility to compete in the women's category of athletic competitions.

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