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hemoglobin, iron-deficiency anemia, reproductive ecology, maternal health, life history theory

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Background and objectives: Iron is critical for women’s reproduction, and iron-deficiency anemia is a global health problem for mothers. While public health programs have aimed to correct iron deficiency in reproductive-aged women with supplementation, a small group of studies have shown that too much iron also has negative effects on birth outcomes. We hypothesize that women’s iron levels evolved within a narrow optimum, and predict that hemoglobin (Hb) levels would be associated with women’s fecundity.

Methodology: We used the publicly available, longitudinal Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study to test the association between -Hb levels and hazard of having a next birth (a measure of fecundity) among 116 parous, reproductive-aged Tsimane’ women of Bolivia. A Cox proportional hazards model was used to model Hb level and other predictors against the event of next birth across the observation period, which began at each woman’s previous birth.

Results: The higher the Hb level, the lower the hazard of a woman giving birth within the study observation period (hazard ratio=0.82, P = 0.03). However, there was no evidence that low Hb reduced women’s fecundity.

Conclusions and implications: These results demonstrate that high Hb influences women’s fecundity. These results supports the growing body of literature showing that iron metabolism is critical for understanding the evolution of women’s reproduction. More work is needed to determine the evolved optimal range of iron levels for reproductive-aged women.

Lay summary: Lower chance of pregnancy among Tsimane’ women with high Hb levels, suggesting evolved optimal Hb levels in women.

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Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, v. 2019, issue 1, p. 111-120