During a recent phone chat, one of my graduate students advised me of a fascinating finding, which I thought I would share today with my PT readers. We were discussing preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related condition wherein women develop high blood pressure as well as an increased density of proteins in their urine. While discussing predisposing factors, I was surprised to find out from my student that the extent to which a woman has been exposed to her partner's sperm affects the likelihood of her developing preeclampsia. Intrigued, I decided to conduct a literature search, and indeed found evidence for the effect in question.
Some researchers have argued that preeclampsia is in part shaped by a woman's immunological tolerance of the father's genes in utero: Less tolerance implies greater likelihood of developing preeclampsia (see Koelman et al., 2000 and relevant references therein for additional details regarding the findings discussed here; see also Einarsson et al., 2003). Women can develop greater tolerance via increased exposure to their partner's antigens prior to conception. One of the ways is non-sexual, namely if a woman has received a blood transfusion from her male partner. The others are sexual in nature as they are instantiated via the extent to which a woman has been exposed to her partner's sperm in one of two obvious ways: (1) the greater the number of times that the couple has had unprotected sex prior to conception; (2) the extent to which the couple has engaged in oral sex resulting in the oral ingestion of sperm. Apparently, some consummatory acts result in a win-win outcome for all parties involved. Now that's some healthy living!
In line with the latter theorizing, if a woman has several children with the same man, her likelihood of developing preeclampsia is greatest for the first pregnancy. Also, of note, this protective effect is lost if a woman switches partners, and has a child with another man. In other words, it is not the generic exposure to sperm that matters. Rather, it is the exposure to one man's sperm that serves to protect against preeclampsia.
This practical nugget of information is an example of what the radio host John Tesh would refer to as "intelligence for your life."
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