- Address: 1165 E 3rd St, Bloomington, IN 47401; Morrison Hall, Room 329
- Phone: (812) 855-7686
- CV: Vitzthum CV (15Jan2016)
- 1986 University of Michigan, PhD, Anthropology
- 1980 University of Michigan, MA, Biological Anthropology
- 1977 Queens College, BS/BA, Biology and Anthropology
- Peru, Bolivia, Germany, Mongolia, Greenland, Iceland
- Evolutionary theory (life history theory, reproductive ecology), variation in human female reproduction, contraceptive technology, women’s and children’s health
- 2008 – Present: Professor, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University
- Other Affiliations: Gender Studies; Center for Training in Reproductive Diversity; Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior
- 2008 – Present: Senior Scientist, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University
An evolutionary biologist, Dr. Vitzthum’s work of the past 20 years has focused on the determinants of variation in human female reproductive functioning. During the mid-90s at the Bolivian Institute for High Altitude Biology, Vitzthum directed Project REPA, a longitudinal study of hormonal variation in highland Bolivian women. Vitzthum found unequivocally that lower hormone levels were normal for Bolivian women. Despite living at a high altitude and consuming an average of only 1800 calories a day, they were able to conceive with lower hormone levels than are considered normal for American women.
Vitzthum’s most recent work is focused on the causes of this hormonal variation. In 2006 she studied nomadic Mongolian herders, whose caloric intake is similar to Bolivians but whose consumption of animal fat is closer to that of Americans. She spent 2007-8 at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, measuring hormone levels in women born in the former East and West Germanys, where both diet and activity patterns differed before reunification.
“What we eat and what we do is at the heart of the intersection between biology and culture. Especially important is whether an adult experience of diet and exercise differs dramatically from one experienced in childhood. Who we are as adults is very much a reflection of who we were as children.”
Vitzthum sees her work as a bridge to the world of applied health policy such as to contraceptive technology, where less hormonal variation among woman and populations is assumed than her research indicates.
Read an interview with Dr. Vitzthum, “Scientist at Work. (IU newsroom, 8/09)
Recent Awards & Grants
- National Science Foundation Grant (2011-2013), Project: “EAGER: Testing genotype-hormone associations in circumpolar ancestral and descendant populations,” Co-investigators: Virginia J. Vitzthum, Gregory E. Demas, Jamie L. Renbarger, Kenneth P. Nephew.
- American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, elected 2011.
2003 “Dr. Livingstone, We Presume.” Evolutionary Views of Human Variation and Hominid History. Human Biology, Volume 75(3). With D O’Rourke.
1998 The Ecology of Breastfeeding. American Journal of Human Biology, Volume 10(2).
1988 Multidisciplinary Studies in Andean Anthropology. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology, Volume 8.
2017 Factors influencing the use of biomedical health care by rural Bolivian anemic women: Structural barriers, reproductive status, gender roles, and concepts of anemia. RM Bedwell, H Spielvogel, D Bellido, VJ Vitzthum. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0170475.
2015 Links among inflammation, sexual activity and ovulation: Evolutionary trade-offs and clinical implications. TK Lorenz, CM Worthman, VJ Vitzthum. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 1:304-324.
2015 Links between breast cancer and birth weight: An empirical test of the hypothesized association between size at birth and pre-menopausal adult progesterone concentrations. K Milich, C Deimel, F Schaebs, J Thornburg, T Deschner, VJ Vitzthum. Hormones and Cancer 6:182-188.
2015 Presence of young children at home may moderate development of hot flashes during the menopausal transition. Lorenz TK, McGregor BA, Vitzthum VJ. Menopause 22:448-452.
2015 Fitness. In: International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, edited by P. Whelehan and A. Bolin. Wiley-Blackwell.
2013 Darwin’s legacy: An evolutionary view of women’s reproductive and sexual functioning. AL Harris and VJ Vitzthum. Journal of Sex Research 50:207-246 (invited and peer reviewed).
2013 Fifty fertile years: Anthropologists’ studies of reproduction in high altitude natives. American Journal of Human Biology 25: 179–189 (invited and peer reviewed).
2009 The ecology and evolutionary endocrinology of reproduction in the human female. American Journal of Physical Anthropology140 Suppl 49 (Yearbook):95-136 (invited and peer reviewed).
2009 Seasonal and circadian variation in salivary testosterone in rural Bolivian men. VJ Vitzthum, CM Worthman, CM Beall, J Thornburg, E Vargas, M Villena, R Soria, E Caceres, H Spielvogel. American Journal of Human Biology 21(6):762-8.
2009 Seasonal modulation of reproductive effort during early pregnancy in humans. VJ Vitzthum, J Thornburg, H Spielvogel. American Journal of Human Biology 21(4):548-58.
2008 Evolutionary models of women’s reproductive functioning. Annual Review of Anthropology 37: 53-73 (peer invited).
2008 Evolution and endocrinology: the regulation of pregnancy outcomes. In: Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects. S. Elton & P. O’Higgens (eds), CRC Press, pp. 99-126.
2006 A prospective study of early pregnancy loss in humans. VJ Vitzthum, H Spielvogel, J Thornburg, B West. Fertility and Sterility 86:373-9.
2005 Hormonal contraception and physiology: A research based theory for differences in discontinuation due to side effects. VJ Vitzthum and K Ringheim. Studies in Family Planning 36:13-32.
2004 Interpopulational differences in progesterone levels during conception and implantation in humans. VJ Vitzthum, H Spielvogel and J Thornburg. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 101:1443-48.
2003 Epidemiological transitions, reproductive health, and the Flexible Response Model. VJ Vitzthum and H Spielvogel. Economics and Human Biology 1:223-42.
2003 The proximate determinants of fertility in populations exposed to chronic hypoxia. VJ Vitzthum and A Wiley. High Altitude Medicine and Biology 4:125-39.
2003 A number no greater than the sum of its parts: The use and abuse of heritability. Human Biology 75:539-58.
2002 Salivary progesterone levels and rate of ovulation are significantly lower in poorer than in better-off urban-dwelling Bolivian women. VJ Vitzthum, GR Bentley, H Spielvogel, E Caceres, J Thornburg, L Jones, S Shore, KR Hodges and RT Chatterton. Human Reproduction 17:1906-13.
2002 Household economic strategies and nutritional anthropometry of women in American Samoa and highland Bolivia. JR Bindon and VJ Vitzthum. Social Science and Medicine 54:1299-1308.
2002 Effect of menstrual cycle phase on exercise performance of high altitude native women at 3,600 m. T Brutsaert, H Spielvogel, E Caceres, M Araoz, RT Chatterton, and VJ Vitzthum. Journal of Experimental Biology 205(Pt 2):233-39.
2001 The home team advantage: Reproduction in women indigenous to high altitude. Journal of Experimental Biology 204:3141-50.
2001 Vaginal bleeding patterns among rural highland Bolivian women: Relationship to fecundity and fetal loss. VJ Vitzthum, H Spielvogel, E Caceres and A Miller. Contraception 64:319-25.
2000 Menstrual patterns and fecundity in non-lactating and lactating cycling women in rural highland Bolivia: Implications for contraceptive choice. VJ Vitzthum, H Spielvogel, E Caceres and J Gaines. Contraception 62:181-7.
2000 Does hypoxia impair ovarian function in Bolivian women indigenous to high altitude? VJ Vitzthum, PT Ellison, S Sukalich, E Caceres, and H Spielvogel. High Altitude Medicine and Biology 1: 39-49.
1998 Ecology of breastfeeding: Approaches toward the improvement of women’s and children’s health. VJ Vitzthum and VM Aguayo. American Journal of Human Biology 10:145-50.
1994 The comparative study of breastfeeding structure and its relation to human reproductive ecology. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 37:307-49.
1994 Suckling patterns: Lack of concordance between maternal recall and observational data. American Journal of Human Biology 6:551-62.
1993 The effect of coca-leaf chewing on salivary progesterone assays. VJ Vitzthum, M von Dornum, and PT Ellison. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 92:539-44.
1992 Infant nutrition and the consequences of differential market access in Nuñoa, Peru. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 28:45-63.
1990 Odontometric variation within and between taxonomic levels of Ceropithecidae: Implications for interpretations of fossil samples. Human Evolution 5:359-374.
1989 Nursing behaviour and its relation to duration of post-partum amenorrhea in an Andean community. Journal of Biosocial Science 21:145-160.
1988 Variation in infant feeding practices in an Andean community. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 8:137-156.
1988 Body size variation in baboons: A reconsideration of ecological determinism. Primates 29:135-7.
1986 Dental metric assessment of the Omo fossils: Implications for the phylogenetic position of A. africanus. K Hunt and VJ Vitzthum. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 71:141-55.
1982 Human tooth size at Mesolithic, Neolithic, and modern levels at Niah Cave, Sarawak: Comparisons with other Asian populations. CL Brace and VJ Vitzthum. Sarawak Museum Bulletin 33:99-109.
1981 The impact of random and lineal fission on the genetic divergence of small human groups: A case study among the Yanomama. PE Smouse, VJ Vitzthum and JV Neel. Genetics 98:179-97.
2001 Why not so great is still good enough: Flexible responsiveness in human reproductive functioning. In: Reproductive Ecology and Human Evolution. PT Ellison (Editor), Aldine, pp. 179-202.
1997 Flexibility and paradox: The nature of adaptation in human reproduction. In: The Evolving Female: A Life History Perspective. M.E. Morbeck, A. Galloway, and A. Zihlman (Editors), Princeton University Press, pp. 242-58.
1994 Causes and consequences of heterogeneity in infant feeding practices among indigenous Andean women. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 709:221-24.