A new study conducted by researchers from the Medical College of Georgia found that young women with obesity were at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a condition that typically targets women in menopause and later in life.
“The question we had is exactly what is happening with these young women,” said researcher Dr. Eric Belin de Chantemele.
How hormones play a role
Previous research has shown how female sex hormones are instrumental in protecting pre-menopausal women from heart disease, which is why the researchers were curious about why this trend began emerging among young women.
They conducted their study on mice in an effort to determine how the biology of being female and overweight affects patients chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
In one trial, the researchers removed the receptor for the female sex hormone progesterone; in another trial, they removed the receptor for the hormone aldosterone, which can increase inflammation in the arteries and heart and contribute to high blood pressure.
Obesity has been found to compromise the function of hormones, and so added weight can affect the body’s responses. In this case, young women with obesity are producing more aldosterone, which is negatively affecting their heart health.
The researchers discovered that after they removed the receptors for progesterone in the mice, their aldosterone levels weren’t as high. That suggests that the hormone is a source of disease risk for women with obesity.
To confirm that this was true, the researchers took the experiment one step further by removing the mice’s ovaries and injecting them separately with estrogen and progesterone. While the estrogen didn’t alter the mice’s other bodily hormonal responses, the progesterone alone was enough to increase the aldosterone levels.
“Basically we think that progesterone is some sort of evolutionary mechanism for sustenance of an increased mineralocorticoid receptor expression in the vasculature of females,” said Dr. Jessica Faulkner.
Women’s weight affects others
Recent studies have explored how women’s weight can affect their children, and how healthy habits -- or a lack thereof -- can be passed down.
One study found that women who follow five healthy habits are more likely to have children who do the same. Another study found that though fathers’ diets and exercise don’t play a role, mothers who place an emphasis on healthy eating and physical activity can affect the likelihood that their children follow suit.
“Parents have a major impact on their children’s health and lifestyle,” said researcher Marit Næss. “Behaviors that lead to obesity are easily transferred from parent to child.”