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FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE GROWTH

Female reproductive function linked to childhood environment

BY OUR PHARMA CORRESPONDENT


May 17, 2007:

Childhood environment influences the female reproductive function, a recent research has found.

The study, led by researchers at University College, London (UCL), suggests that there is a vital window of time from about 0-8 years of age that establishes the rate at which girls physically grow and how high their reproductive hormone levels reach as adults.

The UCL study, published on May 15, 2007, in PLoS Medicine, compares reproductive hormone levels of groups of Bangladeshi women who migrated at different periods of their life.

It was found that women who migrated from Bangladesh to the United Kingdom in their babyhood and early childhood reach puberty earlier, are taller, and have up to 103% higher levels of the hormone progesterone as adults, compared with women who migrated at a later age, as well as those who had remained in Bangladesh.

These higher hormone levels could potentially enhance a woman’s capacity to conceive.

Dr Alejandra Núñez de la Mora of the UCL Department of Anthropology and lead author of the study says that the findings point to the period before puberty as a sensitive phase when changes in environmental conditions positively impact on key developmental stages. In other words, the female body seems to monitor its environment throughout childhood and before puberty in order to gauge when and at what rate it will be best to mature. The body then sets development, including reproductive hormone levels, accordingly.

Girls who migrate at a young age seem to mature more quickly when they find themselves in an environment where the body has more access to energy – that is, when they are under less physical strain because of favourable factors like better diet and general health. When energy is a limited resource, it is allocated between maintenance, growth, and reproductive functions. When conditions are better, more energy is diverted towards reproduction, Dr Alejandra says.

The results of the study are significant not only to Bangladeshi groups but also other groups and populations in transition worldwide. And, these findings add to evidence that humans have a developed ability to react to constant environmental conditions during growth and to make decisions about how to allocate energy between reproductive and other bodily functions.

Five groups of women were selected and compared for the study – women who had matured in Bangladesh but migrated to the UK as adults, those who had moved to the UK as children, second-generation Bangladeshi women living in the UK, women who were born and raised in Bangladesh, and a comparison group of women of European descent who were born and raised in the UK.

Bangladeshi migrants were selected for this study because of the elongated and on-going history of migration to the United Kingdom and the general disparity in conditions between the two countries.

According to Dr Gillian Bentley of the UCL Department of Anthropology, who directed the project, this is the first study to have used measurements of hormone levels to demonstrate a link between childhood environment and reproductive maturation and function. The potential health implications are far-reaching, since a significant increase in progesterone levels in migrant women may result, for example, in higher breast cancer risks in subsequent generations of this community.

Bangladesh, one of the most thickly populated countries in the world, generally has poor hygiene and its citizens have inadequate access to healthcare – resulting in the slower development of Bangladeshi women who grow up in the country.

BY OUR PHARMA CORRESPONDENT

 

 

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