The number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries could predict how fast her cells are aging, which in turn, reflects of her heart disease risk, New Scientist reports.
Women are born with all their eggs, and the decline in these numbers triggers menopause, after which the risk of developing heart disease increases. Women who go through menopause before they’re 46 years old are at twice the risk as women who experience menopause at a typical age. This has previously been linked to cholesterol, body fat redistribution, and blood pressure increases -- but maybe it’s something more fundamental.
"Perhaps women who go through menopause early are intrinsically aging at a different rate," Marcelle Cedars from the University of California, San Francisco, tells New Scientist.
So, Cedars and colleagues sampled blood from 1,100 women ages 25 through 45 who have not experienced menopause yet, and then they measured the amount of anti-Müllerian hormone that’s present. This hormone is an indicator of how many eggs are in the ovaries, and the team confirmed this by using ultrasound to count the ovarian follicles, or the sacs around the eggs.
Then, the researchers looked at the length of the telomeres in the participants’ white blood cells. These little caps at the ends of our chromosomes are the timekeepers of our cells: They shorten every time our cells divide, and their length is a measure of biological age.
Three to five years later, the team scored heart disease risk for 250 of these women using risk factors such as cholesterol levels, body weight, and blood pressure. Not only did women with lower egg counts have a higher risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years, they also have shorter telomeres. In other words, women with fewer eggs appear to be more at risk of age-related diseases.
"We think the ovary may be more sensitive to the processes of aging," Cedars says, making it a canary in a coal mine for accelerated aging. The team presented their findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting in Hawaii this week.
[Via New Scientist]