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Womb Testosterone Levels Linked to Men's Health

Update Date: Apr 22, 2014 04:57 PM EDT

Low exposure to testosterone in the womb may increase men's risk of serious health conditions, according to a new study.

The latest findings show that male health can be influenced by testosterone exposure in the womb, and how men's testosterone levels may be determined before they are born.

Researchers said that insight into why some men have less testosterone is important, as the hormone is essential for health. Previous studies revealed that low levels of the hormone increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The latest findings reveal that Leydig cells, which are responsible for producing testosterone in adults, develop from a specific population of stem cells found in the testes.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh found these stem cells in the developing testes of babies, rats, mice and marmosets in the womb.

While Leydig cells do not develop until puberty, researchers found that their function is weakened if their stem cell forefathers were exposed to lower levels of testosterone in the womb.

Researchers said the latest study is the first to show how womb environment could affect male health in later life.

"There is increasing evidence that a mother's diet, lifestyle and exposure to drugs and chemicals can have a significant impact on testosterone levels in the womb. We need a better grasp of these factors so that we can give reliable advice to pregnant women to protect the health of her unborn child," researcher Professor Richard Sharpe said in a university release.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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