Tick-tock biological clock

By Razib Khan | June 27, 2010 12:46 am

There will be an interesting presentation tomorrow at the European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology. Basically the researcher is going to present on a method for predicting when a woman will hit menopause. This part from the press release is the important bit:

“The results from our study could enable us to make a more realistic assessment of women’s reproductive status many years before they reach menopause. For example, if a 20-year-old woman has a concentration of serum AMH of 2.8 ng/ml [nanograms per millilitre], we estimate that she will become menopausal between 35-38 years old. To the best of our knowledge this is the first prediction of age at menopause that has resulted from a population-based cohort study. We believe that our estimates of ages at menopause based on AMH levels are of sufficient validity to guide medical practitioners in their day-to-day practice, so that they can help women with their family planning.”

The method:

By taking blood samples from 266 women, aged 20-49, who had been enrolled in the much larger Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study, Dr Ramezani Tehrani and her colleagues were able to measure the concentrations of a hormone that is produced by cells in women’s ovaries – anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). AMH controls the development of follicles in the ovaries, from which oocytes (eggs) develop and it has been suggested that AMH could be used for measuring ovarian function. The researchers took two further blood samples at three yearly intervals, and they also collected information on the women’s socioeconomic background and reproductive history. In addition, the women had physical examinations every three years. The Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study is a prospective study that started in 1998 and is still continuing.

The standard objection to sample size will naturally be brought forth, but if it’s a valid diagnostic I assume it’ll get popular really quickly.

Here are the results:

Dr Ramezani Tehrani was able to use the statistical model to identify AMH levels at different ages that would predict if women were likely to have an early menopause (before the age of 45). She found that, for instance, AMH levels of 4.1 ng/ml or less predicted early menopause in 20-year-olds, AMH levels of 3.3 ng/ml predicted it in 25-year-olds, and AMH levels of 2.4 ng/ml predicted it in 30-year-olds.

In contrast, AMH levels of at least 4.5 ng/ml at the age of 20, 3.8 ngl/ml at 25 and 2.9 ng/ml at 30 all predicted an age at menopause of over 50 years old. The researchers found that the average age at menopause for the women in their study was approximately 52.

Remember this is a presentation at a conference, not a paper. I don’t have much to say about this from a technical perspective. What do I know? But surely this is important from a science-you-can-use perspective.


Comments (6)

  1. This is very interesting indeed, thanks for sharing. I have strong doubts though that one single parameter (the level of AMH) is sufficient to make an accurate prediction. I believe for example that the activity of thyroid glands does play a role for the metabolic rate per se and can accelerate the whole process.

  2. I agree with Bee, not likely a single parameter will prove terribly precise (maybe they could predict pre- vs. post-45 menopause from some such a factor, but not a 3-yr. window) , and they certainly need to sample females from multiple parts of the world, not a single geographic area.
    And what’s the ultimate goal… general menopause management, or to consider early menopause as a disorder to be treated in advance???

  3. coryy

    @ Shecky,

    you must be male.

    “what’s the ultimate goal”?

    For starters, if I knew I’d hit menopause at 38, having children might take higher priorities in my 20’s, rather that following the ’80’s “you can do it all” theory of career first, then children. Conversely, if I knew menopause would hit mid 50’s, I’d be able to be more laid back about relationships and the career guilt and the “why don’t you have a kid yet, your fertility will decline soon” voice that single women hear everywhere.

    yeah, life, career and family planning –gee, what’s the point?

  4. Smith W

    This has been the holy grail of women reproductive health. Now it seems women would know more about their future than man can ever know. Two things which changed the life a woman: modern contraceptives specially pills and now the prediction power for how long to take the pill. But more interesting than that, is where these two techniques were developed. One was invented in United States while the other was invented in Iran. Two nations poles apart. I guess there is still some hope left in this world, for better. I wonder if instead of colonialism and wars we could have cooperated more with each other so that we could have even better things. After all we only have one planet to live on. Another interesting things about this is that most males are dismissing it out of hand. It is sad to see this still going on in 21st century. Even the male doctors and scientists are dismissing it. So sad. There has been no congrats for the lead female researcher in this study. Even more sad is to see still in this age and time that most of the presidents of gynecology societies are males, the the same males who are dismissing this study and creating doubt instead of working with Iranian scientists to perfect this test.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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