Women’s reproductive events linked to diabetes, high cholesterol

Women's life stages and how they affect health later.

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Researchers from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute have discovered that aspects of female reproductive health may be overlooked as contributors to later metabolic issues. The study, published in Cell Metabolism on January 26, emphasizes the importance of factors like blood glucose, lipids, blood pressure, and body fat in shaping long-term health, potentially impacting conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Lead author Amy R. Nichols, PhD, MS, RD, a research fellow at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “Our review provides insights into potential underlying causes and risk factors for poorer metabolic function. Current evidence linking certain female reproductive traits to chronic metabolic health and disease suggests that screening for reproductive risk factors across the life course may be an initial step to aid prevention or treatment of chronic metabolic diseases.”

Various factors during a woman’s reproductive life may impact future health. These include early menstruation, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), significant weight changes during pregnancy, abnormal blood sugar and lipid levels in pregnancy, and the severity and timing of menopausal symptoms. The study suggests these traits may have common underlying causes like genetics, hormonal changes, or body fat, leading to potential health issues.

While recognizing these reproductive milestones as risk factors is a step forward, further research is needed to understand these connections fully. Senior author Emily Oken emphasizes the importance of clinical evidence in healthcare to educate patients, implement prevention strategies, and delay the onset of diseases related to metabolic dysfunction.

This study underscores the potential link between female reproductive milestones and the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol later in life. While more research is needed to comprehend the intricate relationships and underlying mechanisms fully, the findings emphasize the importance of recognizing these factors for better understanding and addressing metabolic health challenges in women.

Journal reference:

  1. Amy R. Nichols, Jorge E. Chavarro et al., Reproductive risk factors across the female life course and later metabolic health. Cell Metabolism. DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2024.01.002.

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