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Am J Hum Biol. 2006 Jan;18(1):133-40.

High ponderal index at birth predicts high estradiol levels in adult women.

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Department of Epidemiology and Population Studies, Jagiellonian University, Collegium Medicum, Krakow, Poland.


Inter-individual variation in levels of sex hormones results from differences in genetic, developmental, and environmental factors. We tested a hypothesis that programming of the fetal neuroendocrine axis may predispose some women to produce higher levels of steroid hormones during their menstrual cycles as adults. One hundred forty-five regularly menstruating 24- to 36- year-old women collected daily saliva samples for one menstrual cycle. Data on women's birth weights and birth lengths were obtained from medical records. A positive relationship was observed between ponderal index at birth (an indicator of nutritional status, calculated as birth weight/(birth length)(3)) and levels of estradiol (E2) in menstrual cycles, after controlling for potential confounding factors. Mean E2 was 16.4 pmol/l in the low ponderal index tertile, 17.3 pmol/l in the moderate ponderal index tertile, and 19.6 pmol/l in the high ponderal index tertile (the high ponderal index group had significantly higher E2 than both low and moderate ponderal index groups, P=0.0001). This study shows a positive association between ponderal index recorded for women at birth and levels of E2 measured during their menstrual cycles as adults. This suggests that conditions during fetal life influence adult production of reproductive hormones and may contribute to inter-individual variation in reproductive function. In addition, because large size at birth is one of the factors linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, our findings provide a physiological link for the observed positive relationship between indicators of energetic conditions during fetal growth and breast cancer in women.

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