Results of a new study indicate that gender-specific differences in human spinal structure are present from birth. The findings, published online in advance of publication in Journal of Pediatrics suggest that the observed difference may be an evolutionary response to the differing demands on the female spinal column during pregnancy. The difference could also contribute to women’s higher incidence of scoliosis and osteoporosis, as well as greater susceptibility for fractures later in life. The authors note, however, that the likelihood of these events can be mitigated with exercise and nutrition, suggesting the importance of individualized health care early in life.
The study, involving 35 newborn boys and girls, used MRI to measure vertebral cross-sectional dimensions, a key structural determinant of the vertebra’s strength. The researchers found that the vertebrae were 10.6% smaller on average in newborn females than in males. The mechanisms underlying the observed structural difference were not identified in the research, but the authors postulate a series of complex interactions of sex steroids, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor.
Read a news story about the investigation, with link to the journal article, here.