Spotlight on Jay R. Kaplan, PhD
Psychological stress is believed to disrupt ovarian function in premenopausal women and monkeys. Specifically, we have demonstrated in monkeys that the stress of social subordination, which affects about half of group-housed animals, causes modest ovarian dysfunction (irregular menstrual cycles and reduced estrogen and progesterone) and results in precocious acceleration of coronary artery atherosclerosis.
Most recently, we tested the hypothesis that exposure to a diet high in soy protein and isoflavones (also known as ‘phytoestrogens’) could mitigate the reproductive and health consequences of stress-induced ovarian dysfunction. The resulting data (from 100 monkeys studied for almost three years) demonstrated an association among low social status, impaired ovarian function, elevated cortisol (a primary stress hormone), and increased bone loss.
These outcomes were unaffected by exposure to high levels of soy phytoestrogens.
Our data highlight the potential adverse health effects of psychosocial stress and mild premenopausal ovarian impairment. Future research will translate these ideas to women by studying the extent to which premenopausal individuals experience similarly modest impairments in ovarian function and whether such impairments are associated with increases in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or other major components of women’s health burden.
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