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New Study to Investigate Hormonal Changes During Peri-Menopause

The Change – the time around menopause when women’s hormonal profiles fluctuate and shift, with varied effects on mood, sexuality, and health status outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease.  But are these outcomes, and these symptoms and hormonal changes, similar for women worldwide? 

Photo of Bolivian woman selling fruit. Photo by 3rdparty! via Flickr.com.

Dr. Virginia Vitzthum is beginning a ground-breaking study of changes in hormones and health indicators that occur during the peri-menopausal transition in rural Bolivian women. This study will be the first comprehensive examination of such peri-menopausal changes in a non-industrialized population, and the first to test whether these changes differ between industrialized (e.g., U.S.) and non-industrialized populations.  Dr Vitzthum is returning to work this summer with a group she first studied over a decade ago, making her study also the first to evaluate, in the same sample of women, the relationship between hormone levels at the peak of a woman’s reproductive years and those during her transition through menopause.

“What makes this study unique is that there have been no other studies done so far, in any part of the world, that follow women from the height of their sexual functioning through the end of their reproductive years,” says Dr. Vitzthum. 

“We know, for instance, that Bolivian women have lower reproductive hormone levels (about 70% of U.S. women) to begin with.  Does this account for the marked changes around menopause in US women?  And will outcomes be less dramatic in Bolivian women?”

Dr. Vitzthum will be analyzing biomarkers of health functioning, which presents a number of challenges.  Besides needing to insure a cold-chain from the Bolivian highlands to the labs in the U.S. and Germany, she is also attuned to the cultural sensitivities of doing this kind of research, especially when it involves collecting bodily samples.  But having worked in these villages for over 15 years, Dr. Vitzthum and her colleagues at the Bolivian Institute for High Altitude Biology have developed a relationship of mutual trust with the women participants. 

This study is funded through the Faculty Research Support Program from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University.

 

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