University of Western Australia researchers at RPH Research Foundation in partnership with the Raine Study have discovered a link between in-utero testosterone exposure and the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) as a young adult. The study has been published in the prestigious journal Hypertension 1.
Dr Chi Le-Ha was the lead investigator of this world first study that showed young adults who had higher testosterone levels in their umbilical cord blood at birth tended to have high blood pressure by 20 to 27 years of age.
Dr Le-Ha said these findings could be used to help prevent hypertension – a chronic condition that affects one in three adult Australians and is the number one cause of preventable death worldwide (10 million lives are lost to hypertension each year).
“When it comes to preventing hypertension in adult life, we now know we need to consider the hormonal environment during pregnancy,” Dr Le-Ha said.
“We investigated the association between prenatal testosterone levels, as measured in umbilical cord blood, and a person’s blood pressure at 20 to 27 years of age in 434 participants from the Raine Study (one of the world’s leading longitudinal studies which has been tracking the growth and health progression of the same group of children since 1989).
“The data indicated that higher fetal testosterone levels in late pregnancy are associated with higher blood pressure in young adulthood.”
Hypertension is one of the most modifiable risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease and this new research shows these modifications can start before birth.
“In this regard, pre-natal testosterone may be important,” Dr Le-Ha said.
These findings will inform further studies into a cutting-edge field of medical research known as primordial prevention.
“Primordial prevention aims to prevent risk factors that may affect a person’s health across their lifespan, starting with conception and pregnancy,” Dr Le-Ha said.
*Established in 1989, the Raine Study is Australia’s longest running public health study and one of the most successful multi-generational cohort studies anywhere in the world. Based in Perth, it has studied the same group of nearly 3,000 young Western Australians since before they were born, as well as their parents, grandparents and now their own children.
Thirty years on, discoveries from the Raine Study continue to have significant impact on health policy, practice, and education through ground-breaking research that examines influences, pathways and outcomes through all aspects of human life.
The Raine Study is a joint venture between The University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Telethon Kids Institute, Women and Infants Research Foundation, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and The University of Notre Dame Australia. Flinders University in South Australia and Newcastle University in New South Wales are Institutional Partners. The study receives additional funding support from the Raine Medical Research Foundation and National Health and Medical Research Council.
For more information visit www.rainestudy.org.au
1 Prenatal Testosterone Associates With Blood Pressure in Young Adults: A Prospective Cohort Study
Chi Le-Ha et al., Hypertension. 2021;77:1756–1764