Fatness, menarche, and female fertility

Perspect Biol Med. Summer 1985;28(4):611-33. doi: 10.1353/pbm.1985.0010.


PIP: It is hypothesized that a particular ratio of fat to lean mass is required for menarche and the maintenance of regular menstrual cycles. Females who lose 10-15% of normal weight for height, equivalent to a loss of 1/3 of body fat, become amenorrheic, presumably due to hypothalamic dysfunction. Adipose tissue may provide signals to the central nervous system and gonadotropin regulatory areas either directly, by estrogen production, or indirectly, by the effects of relative fatness on temperature control and metabolic rate, or by both means. Women with hypothalamic dysfunction experience changes in the secretion of gonadotropins, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and estrogen. Weight gain restores postmenarcheal secretion patterns. This approach suggests that the secular trend toward earlier age at menarche reflects earlier attainment of critical weight as a result of improved nutrition and child care. In many societies, subnutrition may explain the observed submaximum fertility. This suggests a need to integrate family planning programs with nutrition programs in many developing countries. It is important to note that the prediction of the minimum weight for height for onset and maintenance of ovulatory cycles is from total water as percentage of body weight. Although the percentage of fat in the body is inversely related to the percent of body water, only the latter is predictive. Successful prediction of the minimum weights for height is related to a lean mass/fat ratio represented by about 17% fat of body weight at menarche and 22% of body weight at the completion of growth at age 18 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Body Weight
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Menarche*
  • Menstruation
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Reproduction
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports