Salivary progesterone levels and rate of ovulation are significantly lower in poorer than in better-off urban-dwelling Bolivian women

Virginia J. Vitzthum*, Gillian R. Bentley, Hilde Spielvogel, Esperanza Caceres, Jonathan Thornburg, Lary Jones, Sarah Shore, Kelly R. Hodges, Robert T. Chatterton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: Agriculturalists in less-developed countries (LDC) have lower progesterone levels than urban industrialized populations. However, it is unknown if urban LDC populations are also relatively lower. We tested whether urban Bolivia samples - poorer (Bol-p) and better-off (Bol-b) - have lower progesterone than a Chicago (USA) sample, and whether progesterone and rate of ovulation are lower in Bol-p than in Bol-b. Methods: Serial salivary samples collected from Bolivians, screened according to strict exclusion criteria during two complete menstrual cycles, were radioimmunoassayed for progesterone; anthropometrics were collected at mid-follicular and mid-luteal phases. Results: Progesterone levels are lower in the Bolivia samples, and higher in the Bol-b than Bol-p; ovulation rate is greater in Bol-b than Bol-p. For only ovulatory cycles, mean-follicular-P (pmol/l), mean-luteal-P (pmol/l), and mean-peak-P (pmol/l) are respectively 65, 142 and 208 in Bol-p; 76, 167 and 232 in Bol-b; and 96, 240 and 330 in Chicago. Principal components representing body-size and progesterone level are positively correlated (r = 0.404, P = 0.005). Conclusions: Progesterone levels appear to be influenced by chronic and acute ecological conditions, evidenced by the association with body-size and the probability of ovulation respectively. These findings have implications for understanding cancer aetiology, developing population-appropriate hormonal contraceptives, and modelling the evolution and functioning of the reproductive system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1906-1913
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2002


  • Anthropometrics
  • Cancer risk
  • Ovulation
  • Reproductive ecology
  • Salivary progesterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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