While it is known that inadequate nutrition during foetal development can cause diabetes and heart disease, a new study warns that it could also lead to early menopause at age younger than 45.
Prenatal malnutrition was also associated with a higher risk of premature ovarian failure.
Natural menopause is a milestone of ovarian aging that results in the end of a woman's reproductive years.
Conversely, an early menopause is associated with increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, and memory changes and changes in vaginal and sexual health, according to researchers.
"The findings showed that food deprivation during early foetal life affects how long the future ovaries function," said Joann Pinkerton, executive director from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Although several studies have investigated the association between malnutrition exposure in early life and risk of various metabolic diseases in adulthood, the association with reproductive ageing was not evaluated.
This new study, published in the journal Menopause, involved nearly 2900 Chinese women and specifically sought to address the effect of early life exposure to malnutrition on age at menopause.
It has already been documented that the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis during the foetal stage plays a critical role in adulthood reproductive health, the researchers said.