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Studies examine how living conditions impact reproductive health
Date:9/28/2009

When costs outweigh benefits, successful pregnancies are less likely to occur.

Life is all about tradeoffs and recently published research by Virginia J. Vitzthum, a senior scientist at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Anthropology, has shown that during periods of intense labor and low food intake, rates of early pregnancy loss can more than double.

The findings, reported recently in the American Journal of Human Biology, are the first to show seasonality of early pregnancy loss in a non-industrialized population -- in this case rural Bolivian women -- and the first to demonstrate a relationship between economic activities and early pregnancy loss.

Vitzthum's research challenges the past belief that nearly all early pregnancy losses are caused by genetic defects in the embryo. Genetic defects wouldn't change with the seasons, so Vitzthum's findings show that environmental factors must also play a major role in early pregnancy losses.

"This finding applies to U.S. moms just as much as Bolivians, and it applies to psychosocial resources just as much as food supply," Vitzthum said. "As well as healthy food, pregnant women also need good working conditions and adequate social support from family, friends and workplace to keep their risks of early pregnancy losses low."

Men are affected, too. In a second research paper, also published in the "American Journal of Human Biology," Vitzthum reports a similar relationship between reproductive fitness and external influences.

"This paper also concerns the effects of limited resources, this time on male physiology," she said. "In the worst part of the year, late winter, testosterone levels are suppressed. This is particularly interesting because it had been thought that males were much less sensitive, if at all, to environmental condit
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Contact: Steve Chaplin
stjchap@indiana.edu
812-856-1896
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert  

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