According to a recently published report on New Scientist, the number of eggs that a woman has in her ovaries could be an indicator of a lot more than fertility. The results of the new study were published at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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Women are born with all of the eggs that they will ever have: a number that scientists say is usually around 300,000. This number declines with age as the body ages and goes through the menstrual cycle.

Those who experience menopause before they’re 45 or 46 years old – which is known as a premature menopause – are at twice the risk as women who experience menopause at the expected age (between 45 and 55).

Studies have revealed an increase in heart attacks among women about 10 years after experiencing menopause. This has previously – in a study at the University of Alabama – connected to many factors like increased blood pressure or bad cholesterol, but today, it is clear that these factors are not the only ones.

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The decrease in estrogen is believed to play a role, as the hormone helps arteries maintain their flexibility and strengthens their interior walls. But Marcelle Cedars at the University of California, San Francisco, asked a question about the increased danger to women who go through early menopause. Because menopause leads to a decline in estrogen, it was believed that could be a more fundamental reason for increases in heart diseases.

Marcelle Cedars said:

“Perhaps women who go through menopause early are intrinsically aging at a different rate.”

But according to the American Heart Association, getting postmenopausal hormones does not reduce the risk of heart disease.

Cedars and her colleagues started their work by taking a small portion of blood from 1,100 women agesd between 25 and 45, who had not gone through menopause yet. The next step was calculating the amount of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) they had, which is a sign for the number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries.

To make sure the results were exact; the team used ultrasound to enumerate how many follicles (the pockets of fluid) are in the ovaries.

Also, the team looked at the length of telomeres (the end of a eukaryotic chromosome, which are made of repeating sequences and protect the actual chromosomal DNA) in their white blood cells, which is considered a measure of cellular age.

About 250 women came back after 3 – 5 years, so the scientists’ team could measure the danger of developing heart disease using factors such as cholesterol levels, body weight, and blood pressure.

The results, which is usually given in the form of the Framingham score, showed that women with lower egg counts have a higher risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years, in addition to having shorter telomeres.

The telomeres protect the DNA from damage, but when women get older; telomeres get shorter and shorter. As a result, the DNA gets lost and the chances of age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease increase.

This practically means: women with fewer eggs appear to be more at risk of age-related diseases.

JoAnn Manson, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts said:

“It is a very promising hypothesis that reproductive ageing could serve as a window into cardiovascular health and the cellular aging process.”

The scientists warned that women used up 90% of their ‘ovarian reserve’ by the age of 30. But according to the American Heart Association, they can have to eat healthy food and be doing daily sports in order to stay healthy during and after menopause.

Sources:

(1) Menopause and Heart Disease

(2) New Scientist

(3) Photo Credit: Flickr, Wikimedia