Psychology, Department of
Links among inflammation, sexual activity and ovulation Evolutionary trade-offs and clinical implications
Date of this Version
The Author(s) 2015
Background and objectives: We examined a mechanism that may coordinate trade-offs between reproduction and immune response in healthy women, namely, changes in inflammation across the ovarian cycle.
Methodology: We investigated C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker, across two consecutive ovarian cycles in 61 Bolivian women. Participants provided saliva samples every other day, and dried blood spots on 5–6 days spread across weeks 2–3 of each cycle. Cycles were characterized as ovulatory/ anovulatory based on profiles of reproductive hormones. Participants also reported whether they were sexually partnered with a male or sexually abstinent during the study.
Results: High early-cycle, but not late-cycle, CRP was associated with anovulation. High inflammation at the end of one cycle was not associated with anovulation in the subsequent cycle. Among ovulatory cycles, women with sexual partners had significantly lower CRP at midcycle, and higher CRP at follicular and luteal phases; in contrast, sexually abstinent women had little cycle-related change in CRP. In anovulatory cycles, partnership had no effect on CRP. CRP varied significantly with socioeconomic status (higher in better-off than in poorer women).
Conclusions and implications: These findings suggest that the cycle-specific effect of inflammation on ovarian function may be a flexible, adaptive mechanism for managing trade-offs between reproduction and immunity. Sociosexual behavior may moderate changes in inflammation across the ovarian cycle, suggesting that these shifts represent evolved mechanisms to manage the trade-offs between reproduction and immunity. Clinically, these findings support considering both menstrual cycle phase and sexual activity in evaluations of pre-menopausal women’s CRP concentrations.
Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health  pp. 304–324 doi:10.1093/emph/eov029