Can early early life influence age at menopause?

Posted by on Jul 26, 2010 in Early menopause | 0 comments

Back in June, I posted about a blood test that can may be able to help predict when you start menopause. However, research suggests that there are specific early early life (i.e. while in the womb) factors that allow for such a prediction without the pin prick.

Back in the 50s and 60s, many of our pregnant mothers were prescribed a synthetic estrogen commonly known as DES (diethylstilbestrol). DES had been frequently used for at least four decades to prevent miscarriage and other common complications of pregnancy, that is, until it was taken off the market in 1971 after being linked to a rare vaginal cancer in girls as young as 8 years, called clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA). My own personal experience with DES and this cancer is that a very close friend whose mother used DES back in the 50s was recently diagnosed with CCA, and while she remains alive and healthy, she continues to battle the challenge of deciding whether or not to expose her uterine area to ongoing radiation and risk damage to organs other than her vagina.

So what’s so important about DES when it comes to menopause?

It appears that women who were exposed to DES while in the womb may actually speed up the rate that they are losing eggs by as much as a year. As I written previously, a woman’s egg supply increases from about 20 weeks after conception and steadily increases to age 14, and the declines steadily until menopause. However, exposure to DES while in the womb may cause an earlier than average (i.e. ~ages 50 to 51) menopause. Conversely, women whose mother who were 35 years or older at the time they were born may start menopause a little later.

Other factors, such as birth order, being exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb or having been breast fed (or not) does not appear to influence age at menopause.

My friends at Reuters Health covered this story a few weeks and I encourage you to read their piece for more information. Quoting the lead study investigator, they note that this is importantly mainly because as we continue to unravel the mysteries of menopause, we are learning that there are many factors that come into play and that early life events, and not just behaviors during our adult years, can indeed influence what happens later, including timing.

No Comments


  1. Menopause? Apparently it's in the genes... | FlashFree : Not Your Mama's Menopause - [...] there are other factors that may influence age at menopause, such as smoking or chemical exposure by our mothers…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *