Reproductive Milestones in Women Linked to Metabolic Health Risks, Suggests Review
Metabolic health, encompassing factors like blood glucose, lipids, blood pressure, and body fat, can be influenced by lifestyle, either positively or negatively. Life events also play a role in determining the risk of chronic metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. A recent review has found that specific characteristics related to reproductive milestones, particularly in females, such as early puberty, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and severe menopause symptoms, are associated with adverse effects on metabolic health.
The researchers emphasize the importance for clinicians to be mindful of gender-specific risk factors when assessing an individual’s metabolic health. A person is considered metabolically healthy when their blood glucose, lipids, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI) fall within the healthy range. Conversely, those not metabolically healthy are at risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the likelihood of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and other health issues.
In the United States, approximately one in three adults have metabolic syndrome, highlighting the significance of addressing and managing metabolic health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends lifestyle choices such as opting for heart-healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and quitting smoking.
However, a recent review suggests that for women, reproductive milestones can also play a crucial role in impacting their risk of metabolic dysfunction, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. The researchers propose that screening for reproductive risk factors, including early onset of menstruation, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), weight gain in pregnancy, and severity of menopause symptoms, could be an initial step in preventing or treating these metabolic diseases.
The study delves into the connection between various reproductive milestones and metabolic health. Early menstruation before the age of 12, irregular menstruation, PCOS, gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and menopause symptoms are all identified as factors influencing metabolic health. While longer lactation is associated with better metabolic health, severe menopause symptoms and early menopause increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Although the study does not establish a causal relationship between reproductive milestones and metabolic disorders, it acknowledges the existence of links. The researchers suggest that factors such as genetics, hormonal fluctuations, and adiposity (excess body fat) could be underlying mechanisms. The review emphasizes the need for further research to comprehend the complex relationships between reproductive milestones and metabolic dysfunction.
Dr. Amy R. Nichols, the lead author, emphasizes that reproductive milestones should be considered as risk factors for poorer metabolic health in later life. While individuals cannot change their medical history, proactive actions such as lifestyle modifications may mitigate the adverse outcomes associated with reproductive characteristics. Clinicians are advised to evaluate patients for both reproductive and traditional risk factors, offering the potential for improved long-term outcomes. Despite reproductive risk factors, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce the likelihood of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol in later life.