Royal Society Publishing

Physical work causes suppression of ovarian function in women

G. Jasieńska , P. T. Ellison


The suppression of reproductive function is known to occur in women engaging in activities that require high energetic expenses, such as sport participation and subsistence work. It is still unclear, however, if reproductive suppression is a response to high levels of energy expenditure, or only to the resulting state of negative energy balance. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence that work–related energy expenditure alone, without associated negative energy balance, can lead to the suppression of reproductive function in women. We document suppression of ovarian function expressed as lowered salivary progesterone levels in women from an agricultural community who work hard, but remain in neutral energy balance. We propose two alternative evolutionary explanations (the ‘pre–emptive ovarian suppression’ hypothesis and the ‘constrained down–regulation’ hypothesis) for the observed results.