Your risk of developing high blood pressure may start before you're born

03/12/2021 | 2 mins

Researchers from The University of Western Australia and 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. 

Adjunct Senior Research Fellow Dr Chi Le-Ha, from UWA’s Medical school, was the lead investigator on the study which has been published in the prestigious journal Hypertension 1. 

The study 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 the 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. 

“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.

The Raine Study is 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.

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