Researchers from St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh have found that a key chemical change that occurs throughout a woman’s reproductive life could provide the answers many women are seeking.
They used all previous data in their study, plus their own latest findings on the Anti-Millerian Hormone (AMH) – a hormone produced by growing, egg-producing ovarian follicles.
This is a major study involving data from 3,200 women that set out to map how levels of AMH vary at different points in the lives of healthy women. From this they were able to deduce how a woman’s AMH level compares with the average for her age, which can reveal how many eggs she has remaining. The study found that AMH levels peaked at the age of 24 but had almost halved by the time women were in their mid-30s and were almost nonexistent by their late 40s.
In practice this will allow women in future to compare their own hormone levels with the average for their age to see whether they should be concerned about their future fertility. The tests will indicate whether they are likely to have an early or later menopause, meaning they know whether they have to try for a baby sooner rather than later.
Professor Scott Nelson, from the University of Glasgow, said a major use of the new findings could be in helping young cancer patients wondering how their treatment may have affected their chances of having a baby.
As one in five babies are now born to women aged over 35, it will also help women who postpone their family because of their careers not to leave it too late. These findings could indicate whether they are likely to have an earlier menopause and hence should not delay trying to conceive, or whether their fertile life will end later.