The Interrelationship Between Female Reproductive Aging and Survival

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Journals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences






Oxford University Press

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The link between survival and reproductive function is demonstrated across many species and is under both long-term evolutionary pressures and short-term environmental pressures. Loss of reproductive function is common in mammals and is strongly correlated with increased rates of disease in both males and females. However, the reproduction-associated change in disease rates is more abrupt and more severe in women, who benefit from a significant health advantage over men until the age of menopause. Young women with early ovarian failure also suffer from increased disease risks, further supporting the role of ovarian function in female health. Contemporary experiments where the influence of young ovarian tissue has been restored in postreproductive-aged females with surgical manipulation were found to increase survival significantly. In these experiments, young, intact ovaries were used to replace the aged ovaries of females that had already reached reproductive cessation. As has been seen previously in primitive species, when the young mammalian ovaries were depleted of germ cells prior to transplantation to the postreproductive female, survival was increased even further than with germ cell-containing young ovaries. Thus, extending reproductive potential significantly increases survival and appears to be germ cell and ovarian hormone-independent. The current review will discuss historical and contemporary observations and theories that support the link between reproduction and survival and provide hope for future clinical applications to decrease menopause-associated increases in disease risks.