Prenatal Psychological Distress Linked to Earlier Adrenarche in Girls

Fetal exposure to elevated maternal psychological distress predicts earlier adrenarche and higher DHEA-S levels
Prenatal Psychological Distress Linked to Earlier Adrenarche in Girls
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Medically Reviewed By:
Meeta Shah, M.D.

TUESDAY, March 5, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Fetal exposure to maternal psychological distress is associated with earlier adrenarche among girls, especially first-born girls, according to research published in the February issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Molly M. Fox, Ph.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues examined whether fetal exposure to maternal psychological distress is related to children's adrenarche and gonadarche schedules in a longitudinal study involving 253 mother-child dyads followed for 15 years.

The researchers found that fetal exposure to elevated maternal prenatal psychological distress predicted earlier adrenarche and higher dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels in girls, especially first-born girls. After adjustment for covarying indices of postnatal adversity, the associations persisted. There were no associations seen for boys or for gonadarche in girls.

"Our results imply that human mothers may forecast future needs by calibrating the timing of first-born daughters' neurobehavioral maturation (and perhaps fecundity) in a way that optimizes the mothers' own reproductive success based on prenatal psychological distress," the authors write. "Psychological distress may thus reflect a crucial summary signal of conditions and resources that translates into biological, ontogenic adaptations. In this way, psychological distress may be a key human signal in the intergenerational programming of life history traits."

Abstract/Full Text

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