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Career Women Endanger Their Fertility


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

High-powered jobs are harmful for the modern generation of women, suggests a new study by British researchers, who claim that successful careers and increased stress levels are affecting a woman's ability to conceive a child.

The study based its findings on an international comparison of women in 37 different populations and cultures - 33 non-Western populations and 4 European populations. It found that women with careers are more likely to have androgynous figures which indicate higher levels of androgens - a group of hormones that includes the male hormone testosterone associated with strength, stamina and competitiveness. In contrast, women with more shapely and curvy figures, were found to have higher levels of estrogen, a hormone that appears to be vital for a successful conceiving.

The study, led by professor Elizabeth Cashdan, anthropologist at the University of Utah, reached the conclusion after examining the shape of women all across the world. The experts compared women's waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). To calculate this ratio, the scientists needed to divide a woman's waist circumference by the circumference of her hips.

Cashdan said a small waist and large hips have significant fitness benefits for ladies. It is known that Marilyn Monroe-type figures, with large breasts and narrow waists, typically have a curvy waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7, or, in other words, their waist is 70 per cent the size of their hip circumference. Women with this type of figure are less prone to chronic disease and are typically considered to be more attractive. In addition, large-breasted and narrow-waisted women have also been shown to have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, other female hormones associated with optimal fertility.

However, the experts came to the conclusion, that classic Monroe figure is less often found in women with successful and demanding careers. These women are more likely to have boyish-like figures, which are negatively correlated to fertility. Also, the androgens that can make a woman a leader at her workpace, can cause fat to settle around the waistline, which can result in a further drop in estrogen levels.

Previous studies have shown that stress can lead to reduced levels of the hormones that are essential for ovulation. Women with stressful jobs and demanding personal lives are most at risk. "Although the hormonal profile associated with a high WHR may favor success in some stressful and difficult circumstances where women must work hard, there are costs," Cashdan said. "Women may suffer lower fertility and possibly lower attractiveness to men who may have an innate preference for curviness," she added.

One study from 2004, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggested that women with hourglass figures had significantly higher (by 30 per cent) levels of the female reproductive hormone, estradiol, compared to women with less curvy figures. As a result, they were precisely three times more likely to get pregnant.

According to scientists, working women must take stress reducing measures, which can pay off for those who are interested in protecting their fertility. Exercising, eating well-balanced diet, and spending more time with family and friends, are all good ways to bring more balance to a busy life full of pressure and stress.

The research is published in the recent issue of the journal Current Anthropology.

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