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Women’s reproductive milestones may increase risk of diabetes, high cholesterol later in life: Report | health news


Researchers at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute conducted a new analysis of the current literature, revealing that female reproductive characteristics may be overlooked as risk factors for later metabolic dysfunction. The review, “Reproductive risk factors across the female life course and later metabolic health,” was published in Cell Metabolism. Metabolic health is characterized by optimal blood glucose, lipids, blood pressure and body fat. Changes in these characteristics can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

“Our review provides insight into potential underlying causes and risk factors for poor metabolic function,” said lead author Amy R. Nichols, PhD, MS, RD, a research fellow at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Linking specific female reproductive characteristics to metabolic health and disease suggests that screening for reproductive risk factors throughout life may be an early step in the prevention or treatment of chronic metabolic disease.”

These reproductive risk factors include early age at first menarche, menstrual irregularity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), high weight change during pregnancy, abnormal blood sugar and lipid levels during pregnancy, and severity and timing of menopausal symptoms. The authors note that these traits may share underlying mechanisms that lead to poor metabolic health, including genetic influences, hormonal fluctuations, or body fat. While recognizing these reproductive milestones as risk factors is a step toward better understanding the development of metabolic dysfunction, the research teams say future research is needed to understand these complex relationships.

“Disentangling the relationship between risk factors and metabolic dysfunction is challenging,” said Emily Oken MD, MPH, professor of population medicine at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and professor and chair at Harvard Medical School. “Clinical evidence collected in health care settings across the female reproductive lifespan may be important for patient education, implementation of prevention strategies, and halting the onset of disease.”

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