Women often attribute symptoms of heart disease to a non-threatening condition, such as acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging, so diagnosing early signs of a heart attack or stroke have become vital to women’s heart health. A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Hawaii has revealed that the number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries could indicate how fast her cells age and overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

"Perhaps women who go through menopause early are intrinsically aging at a different rate," Dr. Marcelle Cedars, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. "We think the ovary may be more sensitive to the processes of aging.”

Cedars and her colleagues gathered blood samples from 1,100 women between the ages of 25 and 45 who had not reached menopause yet. In addition to measuring the amount of anti-Müllerian hormones (AMH), which can indicate how many eggs are in the ovaries, researchers also determined each woman’s biological age by observing the length of telomere’s in their white blood cells. Telomeres, the tail end of a chromosome that shortens when a cell divides, can be used to accurately measure cellular age. Three to five years later, researchers calculated Framingham scores for 250 of the women in the original group. Framingham score indicates risk factors for heart disease, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight.

Not only did women with a lower egg count register a higher Framingham score, but their telomeres were also shorter compared to women with a higher egg count. A decline in egg count tends to trigger the onset of menopause in women. Women who experience menopause before 46 are considered twice as likely to develop heart disease. Evidence has also shown that the length of telomeres can indicate a person’s risk for heart disease, dementia, cancer, and premature death. For example, a study conducted by UCSF recently found that drinking soda can shorten telomeres and lead to early death.

"It is a very promising hypothesis that reproductive ageing could serve as a window into cardiovascular health and the cellular aging process," said JoAnn Manson, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death among women around the world. A woman’s risk of developing heart disease increases dramatically after menopause. Since women tend to be diagnosed with heart disease later than men, using egg count as an early indicator could be an important tool for diagnosing women earlier and administering the right type of care.

Source: Manson J, Cedars M, et al. Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. 2014.