Age of menopause – 8 things to know about

Age of menopause treelog©iStockphoto.com/AbbieImages

1. Genes

The biggest influence on your age of menopause is your genes. Genetic makeup explains up to about 63% of the variation in menopause age between women. So if you want to have a good guess at your menopause age ask your mum, aunts and grandma (1).





2. Tobacco - smokers have an earlier menopause

Apart from genes, the most consistent influence on age of menopause is smoking. The earlier you start smoking and the longer you smoke for, the higher your chances of an early menopause (1). Smoking affects your ovaries in two ways:

  1. A chemical in the tar of cigarettes is thought to reduce the number of eggs and
  2. Smoking interferes with your body's ability to make and process oestrogen.

The good news for smokers is that these changes are thought to be reversible when you quit the weed.


3. Number of pregnancies

Many studies have found that women who have no children tend to have an earlier menopause. But there is debate over whether the more children you have, the later your periods will stop. Some studies say more children means later menopause, but other studies contradict this (1).


4. A man about the house

Another finding from research in different cultures is that when there's a man about the house menopause seems to come later. Several studies have shown that married and widowed women have a later menopause than single and divorced women (2).

There's a nice theory that this may in some way be related to what are called "primer pheromones". These pheromones are chemicals which somehow create an effect on the bodies of others who are close to you. Researchers Sievert, Waddle and Canalis have suggested that just as occurs in male rats, men may produce pheromones that can influence the menstrual cycle of their female partners and ultimately the timing of their menopause (2).


5. Alcohol

It's surprising that the effect of alcohol intake on age of menopause has not been studied anything like as extensively as tobacco. The studies that have been done are small but suggest that alcohol in moderation (less than 7 drinks a week) may delay onset of menopause. Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with earlier menopause 81).


6. Use of oral contraceptives

There is no evidence that use of the lower dose contraceptive pill (≤ 50μg oestrogen) has an influence on age of menopause. On the other hand, some research suggests that long-term users of high dose oral contraceptives (> 50μg oestrogen for 3 years or more), may get their menopause slightly earlier than women who have either never used oral contraceptives, or those who have only used lower doses (3).


7. Nutrition, poverty and education

Nutrition – especially childhood nutrition is thought to have some influence on early menopause but the jury is still out on the details. But it does seem that for poor nutrition as a child to cause early or premature menopause, it has to be at a quite severe, starvation level.

At the other end of the spectrum, being obese in adolescence is also associated with an earlier menopause. Both poverty and lower educational levels are also thought to be linked with early menopause age, but explanations for how and why are still unclear (1).


8. Birthweight

Definitely not much you can do about this one - but it's interesting: There's new evidence showing that your birth weight may have an influence on your age of menopause.

A British study, which has been following up over 17,000 people since their birth in 1958, has found that women who were at either end of the birth weight spectrum - that is, they were either small or large babies - are more likely to have a slightly earlier menopause (4).

It was while we were still in our mothers’ wombs that our ovaries had the maximum ever number of follicles. It is thought that the conditions of our early fetal life may have this far-reaching effect on our menopause age. These finding are new and the researchers suggest that it may be growth rate that affects early menopause, rather than prematurity, as was previously thought.


What you can't change isn't worth worrying about

When all's said and done, apart from stopping smoking, age of menopause is not something you can do anything about.

It will happen to you when it happens. If it happens early it's unlikely that you will be able to say why and the same if you have a late menopause – it's also just one of those things. Nobody really knows why it happens, when it happens, so there's little point in fretting about it.


Bibliography

  1. Lynnette Leidy Sievert, Menopause. A Biocultural Perspective. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick 2006.
  2. Sievert LL, Waddle D, Canalis K. Marital status and age at natural menopause; considering pheromonal influence. American Journal of Human Biology 2001;13:479-85.
  3. De Vries et al., Oral contraceptive use in relation to age at menopause in the DOM cohort. Human Reproduction 2001;16:1657-62.
  4. Tom SE. Fetal Environment and early age at natural menopause in a British birth cohort study. Human Reproduction 2010;25:791-8.


Published May 7th 2011.



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