Exposure to phytoestrogens in utero and age at menarche in a contemporary British cohort

Kristin J. Marks, Terryl J. Hartman, Ethel V. Taylor, Michael E. Rybak, Kate Northstone, Michele Marcus

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27 Scopus citations


Phytoestrogens are estrogenic compounds that occur naturally in plants. Phytoestrogens can cross the placenta, and animal studies have found associations between in utero exposure to phytoestrogens and markers of early puberty. We investigated the association between in utero exposure to phytoestrogens and early menarche (defined as <11.5 years of age at onset) using data from a nested case-control study within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal study involving families living in the South West of England. Concentrations of six phytoestrogens were measured in maternal urine samples collected during pregnancy. Logistic regression was used to explore associations between tertiles of phytoestrogen concentrations and menarche status, with adjustment for maternal age at menarche, maternal education, pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), child birth order, duration of breastfeeding, and gestational age at sample collection. Among 367 mother-daughter dyads, maternal median (interquartile range) creatinine-corrected concentrations (in µg/g creatinine) were: genistein 62.1 (27.1–160.9), daidzein 184.8 (88.8–383.7), equol 4.3 (2.8–9.0), O-desmethylangolensin (O-DMA) 13.0 (4.4–34.5), enterodiol 76.1 (39.1–135.8), and enterolactone 911.7 (448.1–1558.0). In analyses comparing those in the highest tertile relative to those in the lowest tertile of in utero phytoestrogen exposure, higher enterodiol levels were inversely associated with early menarche (odds ratio (OR)=0.47; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.26–0.83), while higher O-DMA levels were associated with early menarche (OR=1.89; 95% CI: 1.04–3.42). These findings suggest that in utero exposure to phytoestrogens may be associated with earlier age at menarche, though the direction of association differs across phytoestrogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-293
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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