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Am J Hum Biol. 2018 Jan;30(1). doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23069. Epub 2017 Oct 6.

The cost of reproduction in women: Reproductive effort and oxidative stress in premenopausal and postmenopausal American women.

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Polish Academy of Sciences, Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Wroclaw, 50-449, Poland.
Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511.
Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.
Yale School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.



Life history theory predicts a trade-off between female investment in reproduction and somatic maintenance, which can result in accelerated senescence. Oxidative stress has been shown to be a causal physiological mechanism for accelerated aging and a possible contributor to this trade-off. We aimed to test the hypothesis for the existence of significant associations between measures of reproductive effort and the level of oxidative stress biomarkers in premenopausal and postmenopausal American women.


Serum samples and questionnaire data were collected from 63 premenopausal and postmenopausal women (mean age 53.4 years), controls in the Connecticut Thyroid Health Study, between May 2010 and December 2013. Samples were analyzed for levels of 8-OHdG and Cu/Zn-SOD using immunoassay method.


Levels of oxidative damage (8-OHdG) but not oxidative defense (Cu/Zn-SOD) were negatively associated with parity and number of sons in premenopausal women (r = -0.52 for parity, r = -0.52 for number of sons, P < .01). Together, measures of reproductive effort, women's BMI, age, and menopausal status explained around 15% of variance in level of 8-OHdG. No association between reproductive effort characteristics and oxidative damage was found for postmenopausal women.


We found no evidence of a trade-off between somatic maintenance as measured by 8-OHdG and reproductive effort in women from this American population. On the contrary, higher gravidity and parity in premenopausal women was associated with lower damage to cellular DNA caused by oxidative stress. These results highlight the importance of population variation and environmental conditions when testing the occurrence of life-history trade-offs.


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