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Potential use of biomarkers for analyzing interpopulation and cross-cultural variability in reproductive aging

Bentley, Gillian R. PhD1; Muttukrishna, Shanthi PhD2

doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e318093df43
Articles from the Workshop on "Cross-cultural Comparisons of Midlife and Aging"

Objective: The aims of this study were (1) to document the extent of variability in physiological aspects of reproductive aging; (2) to outline those areas where more work is needed to expand our knowledge of this variability; (3) to outline available biomarkers that can be used to measure aspects of reproductive aging, such as ovarian reserve and declining hormone levels; and (4) to note potential problems with the use of these biomarkers in cross-cultural settings.

Design: Literature review of English and French publications using PubMed with no date restrictions.

Results: Substantial variability exists in both cultural and physiological aspects of reproductive aging and menopause. However, the extent of variability across populations for many areas of reproductive aging needs better documentation as well as explanation of sources of this variability. Several biomarkers exist for use in cross-cultural research, including ovarian characteristics such as ovarian volume, ovarian reserve, follicular development, and atresia, and levels of hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone, inhibin B, and anti-mullerian hormone.

Conclusion: We urge that further work be undertaken to evaluate and describe variability in physiological aspects of reproductive aging in cross-cultural settings. Some problems exist in the use of biomarkers to record this variability, particularly in remote settings with few logistical resources.

This article summarizes the significant variability that exists between women and populations in many physiological aspects of reproductive aging. It also reviews a number of biomarkers that are useful for measuring reproductive aging as well as problems associated with their use.

From the 1Department of Anthropology and Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University, Durham, England, UK; and 2Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College London, London, England, UK.

Financial disclosure: None reported.

Received December 3, 2006; revised and accepted April 18, 2007.

Address correspondence to: Professor Gillian Bentley, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, 43 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 OHN, England, UK. E-mail:

©2007The North American Menopause Society