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22-06-2010 | Cardiometabolic | Article

Having children linked with atherosclerosis


Free abstract

MedWire News: A Finnish study suggests that childbirth could have a rapid impact on the progression of atherosclerosis in women.

The findings also reinforce previous research, reported earlier this month by MedWire News, that showed pregnancy may have a persistent negative impact on high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.

In the current study, Michael Skilton (Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia) and colleagues examined whether pregnancy affected carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) among 1786 participants in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study.

Specifically, they compared the number of children born to 1005 women with concurrent changes in cIMT and cross-referenced this with changes in 781 men exposed to child rearing.

The researchers say this allowed them to differentiate changes in lifestyle and risk behaviors that accompany child rearing from the biologic influences of giving birth to children.

Childbirth in women was associated with significant concurrent reductions in HDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I, and apolipoprotein B, as well as a redistribution of body fat characterized by increased abdominal adiposity.

It was also associated with increased progression of cIMT, with a mean increase of 7.5 µm per birth, which the researchers say is similar in magnitude to the increase in cIMT per year for women in this cohort.

The association between childbirth and cIMT progression was not markedly changed after adjusting for concurrent cardiovascular risk factors, and remained statistically significant.

In men, there was an inverse association between the number of children born and concurrent change in cIMT. This, say the researchers, suggests that having children has a short-term atheroprotective effect in men, possibly through social and lifestyle factors.

The researchers say in the journal Stroke: “If these benefits carry true for females, this would indicate that the magnitude of the detrimental influences of childbearing is greater than otherwise indicated by the study of females alone.”

Overall, they conclude that their results provide “evidence that childbearing can have a rapid influence on the progression of atherosclerosis.”

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Anita Wilkinson