Who put the ‘men’ in menopause?
Would you believe men?!!!
You must think I am bordering on insanity. But new evolutionary research (published in the June issue of PLOS Computational Biology) posits that cause of menopause is men. You read that correctly; men.
Various explanations have been proposed to explain why menopause, occurs, e.g. the grandmother theory, which assumes that as women enter their post-reproductive lives, they are better able to care for their offspring’s children or the evolutionary tradeoff hypothesis, which suggests that menopause is a tradeoff between future production of females and enhanced offspring survival.But what about the concept of mating and ‘mate choice?’
Mind you, I am venturing into geeky science territory here but briefly, researchers created a computer model and simulation and found the following:
A lack of reproduction has led to menopause.
That is, over time, human males started to display a preference for younger women in selecting their mates and in turn, “stacked the Dawinian deck” against continued reproductive abilities in older women. In other words, natural selection; only this time, it’s gender over nature plus nature over nature. The researchers say that their model not only shows that men had a shift towards preferring younger females, but that certain female-specific mutations led to detrimental effects on female fertility – effects such as an increase in certain hormones and the cessation of ovulation altogether.
The researchers say that infertility in women has not evolved but rather “over time, competition among men of all ages for younger mates has left older females with much less chance of reproducing,” adding that “natural selection is only concerned with the survival of the species through individual fitness so they protect fertility in women while they are most likely to reproduce.” The rub here is not only does fertility cease to exist but women are left with a host of health problems as a result. Yikes!
Interestingly, the lead investigator, Rama Singh, points out that if women had historically been the ones to select younger mates, the situation would have been reversed, with men losing fertility.
Besides the obvious conclusion, that is, men put the men in menopause, what else can we draw from this hypothesis. For one, if male selection drove the ‘pause, it isn’t inconceivable that the paradigm could ultimately be reversed. But that’s science fiction for another planet and another time.
On a side note? The term male menopause is a bit rhetorical, don’t you think? That’s a topic for another day.
['Painting: Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) - CY Twombly, 1993-94.]
Menopause is seasonal?!!!
I’m as surprised as you. And as a May baby, I have a lot to think about.
According to research published several years ago in Menopause journal, there may actually be a connection between season of birth and certain symptoms that occur during menopause.
Now, before you think I’ve truly lost my marbles, let me share that data have previously connected season of birth to fetal growth rates, human life span, fertility, and even timing of menopause. The season in which we’re born have also been connected to the prevalence of mental health conditions, like schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. And, according to Italian researchers (who performed analyses on 2,451 women attending menopause clinics) scientific scores taken at the time they sought advice actually connected birth season to their symptoms.
The goal of the scale was to measure factors like vasomotor symptoms (flashes, night sweats), psychological conditions (anxiety, depression) and bodily complaints (such as sleep issues or joint pain). Just to be sure that other factors were not influencing the results, factors, for example, that can influence symptoms such as smoking, number of years since menopause and BMI, they made additional scientific adjustments. The results?
If you are an Autumn baby, you may be in luck! Women born during the Fall months were found to be less likely to have psychological issues and fewer bodily complaints. Born in Spring? Not so lucky! In fact, converse to their Fall peers, women born in Spring had the highest scores for psychological and bodily complaints. If you were born during Summer or Winter, you may just win the balance lottery; it appears that these women just fell into the middle range of scores for these complaints. That’s the more general information. But how about actual month? The lowest overall scores were found among women born in November and the highest, among women born in June. For those of you who are astrologically inclined, the Scorpio/Sags are less likely to have psychological complaints than their Taurus/Gemini friends (i.e. November and May). November actually won the trifecta, as these women, again, had the lowest bodily complaint scores while March babies had the highest.
Mind you, the results are not the gospel; the researchers were evaluating data that had already been collected on a group of women seeking advice for symptoms. So there may have been bias to begin with. Still, it’s pretty interesting. I am a firm believer that humans are influenced and affected by the tides and the lunar cycles. Why not the seasons too?
But then again, as a May baby, I may actually be completely out of my mind! What about you? When were you born and how are your symptoms?
Can you accurately pinpoint the timing of your final menstrual period? Lord, I finally hope so because if you are anything like me, 50+ and over this bleeding thing, the ability to read into the magic menopause ball sounds like heaven. However, more importantly, it may have significant benefits for women’s health overall. For example, knowing when you will enter menopause provides you with the ability to address bone loss and other risks now (the rate of bone loss greatly accelerates to roughly 2.6% in the year prior through two years after menopause). And there’s no time like the present to start bolstering your defenses against the health-related ravages of aging.
This post comes with a warning: it’s a bit geeky science-y. Some topics are harder than others to write about. However, I hope that you’ll bear with me and read on; it’s important.
This is not the first time that the future is being explored; you may recall another test that measures the antimullerian hormone, an ovarian marker that relates to the number of immature follicles a woman has (as the marker declines, so do the number of eggs a woman houses, and the closer to menopause she is). Another way to gauge the start of menopause is to monitor bleeding patterns. Not only is this onerous, but, data suggest that more than 60% of women in early perimenopause become postmenopausal with no apparent signs.
A new approach to pinpoint the timing of menopause involves a calculation of changing levels of estradiol (the most important form of estrogen in the body) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH – the hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs). The closer a woman is to menopause, the higher the FSH levels and the lower the estrogen levels. To determine if this test is valid, researchers developed a model based on data collected from 574 women in the ongoing Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). These women were all between the ages of 42 and 53, had an intact uterus and at least one ovary and were not taking hormones. They were ethnically diverse (Caucasian, African-American and Asian) and had given blood samples over a ten year period.
The findings? After adjusting for factors that might influence menopause, including age, smoking and weight, they found that measuring FSH and estradiol could accurately pinpoint three major timepoints: roughly two years and one year prior to the final menstrual period and the final menstrual period. Moreover, the ability of the test to predict the final period increased as women moved closer to the goal.
Now, scientists use variables to gauge how well a test can predict the number of people with a condition (sensitivity) as well as how well a test can identify those people without the condition (specificity). The new model was shown to be able to accurately identify 89% of women who reached their final menstrual period, which is excellent.
Scientific mumbo jumbo aside, the upshot is that it’s likely that we’ll be able to predict the date of our final menstrual with great accuracy in the near future. Better than an 8-ball. The answer is ‘Yes.’
[This study appears in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.]Read More
If you believe in magic, come along with me…
-The Lovin Spoonful, 1965.
A lot has changed since the Lovin Spoonful released their Billboard Hot 100 hit ‘Do you believe in magic.’ And a lot has not changed. Just take a look around and you may see a 20 something year old hipster walking down the street in a fur vest, handlebar ‘stache and some rockin’ bottom bells, suede fringed bag, floppy ass hat or hotter than hot pants. And there are still miracles to be found in little white pills. Although today’s ‘little helper’ comes in the form of Menopause Magic.
Indeed, this ‘one size fits all’ tablet will cure all that ails, “relieve menopause symptoms just like magic!” Manufactured by Natural Miracles, Menopause Magic contains a natural blend of oils and herbs to relieve hot flashes, night sweats, backache, joint discomfort, low libido, vaginal dryness, forgetfulness, moodiness and abnormal menstrual periods. OMG! It MUST be magic! And, they even have laboratory studies to prove effectiveness!
Mind you, each pill contains black cohosh,which may help with those flashes, depending on the dosage and manufacturing practices. However, I have not seen much information on spanish thyme, greek sage or fennel or extra-virgin olive oil and menopause (truth be told, it has me thinking about my next meal!) But I digress.
Listen up ladies: there is no magic in menopause relief. It takes research, communication with a licensed, well-versed health practitioner and trial and error. Save your hard earned dollars on something other than these particular little white pills.
Sending love. In Spoonfuls.
Can you predict what perimenopause may be like? Believe it or not, it appears that certain past events throughout a woman’s reproductive life have more value than meets the eye. In fact, using questionnaire data collected from 290 peri- and postmenopausal women, researchers believe that they have found certain clues. For example, women who reported more severe physical symptoms during perimenopause experienced more severe physical symptoms during other times that their hormones were fluctuating:
- just before their menstrual period
- during pregnancy
- directly after giving birth
- during oral contraceptive use
The best predictors of menopausal pain and discomfort – achy muscles or joints, neck or head pain, lack of stamina, fatigue, low back ache, lack of concentration, bloating? The PMS experience! PMS with pain, lack of concentration and bloating appear to be the linked to the worst physical symptoms around the menopausal transition. And what about hot flashes and night sweats? It appears that most PMS symptoms (e.g. water retention, negative mood, concentration, cramps), fatigue, heartburn, headaches, backaches and hemorroids during the postpartum period, and physical effects of oral contraceptive use (e.g.headaches, bloating, tender breasts, nausea, aches, pains, cramps) are a harbinger of the worst vasomotor symptoms during perimenopause.
It’s important to keep in mind that other factors come into play during menopause, such as overall health, stress and attitudes towards aging. And as I’ve written time and again, all of these factors can influence the menopause experience. Past reproductive experience appears to account for up to 40% of how badly perimenopause may play out. Meanwhile, think back on your reproductive history. And start preparing now to deal with bothersome symptoms as they arise. It really is elementary!
(This study appears in the online edition of Menopause.)
Back in 2009 and 2010, I wrote about a marker for menopause — the antimüllerian hormone (AMH) — which theoretically can accurately predict when a woman will enter menopause within a margin of three to four years. AMH is first detected in the ovarian cells when a woman is 36 weeks pregnant and continues until preimenopause. More specifically, it correlates to immature follicles in the ovaries whose role it is to house mature eggs. The greater the number of these follicles, the more likely it is that a woman will conceive. This is why AMH disappears as a women enters menopause, and why it has been identified as a marker of ovarian aging. Researchers have also discovered that women who have AMH levels that are below average for their age are likely to enter menopause up to 10 years before the average age of most women, 52 years. The importance of this cannot be overstated; one of the goals of this blog is to help you prepare for menopause and the changes that accompanying it. Hence, being able to predict when menopause may start can help you address certain potential health issues related to declining estrogen before they become full blown, e.g., elevated cholesterol.
The powers that be have recently defined two phases of the menopause transition; the early phase, in which menstruation becomes more variable and cycle length changes by 7 days or more, and the late phase, in which women miss two or more periods, experiencing at least one 60 day cycle and have elevated FSH hormone levels. These phases became the anchor for the AMH study because they allowed the researchers to weigh its potential as a marker over time. That’s exactly what they set out to do (you can find the study published in the latest issue of Menopause.)
Using a new assay testing kit that appears to be more sensitive than its predecessors, they selected 44 women from a pool of 595 whose blood samples were taken randomly over a six year period and measured AMH. It was important that these women met criteria that would allow their AMH to be accurately measured; these included being over age 40 and menstruating regularly when they first had blood drawn, or having regular then irregular periods, not taking any medication that might affect their menstrual cycles and providing ample number of samples (at least three) over a five year time period.
The findings? Roughly three years before women entered what is considered the late stage menopausal transition, AMH blood levels became virtually undetectable. Moreover, the proportion of women with undetectable AMH levels constantly increased, which supports the hypothesis that AMH levels below a certain point may predict progression into the late phase of the menopausal transition. Similarly, over the time course of the study, the percentage of women with low AMH levels increased by about 71% as they approached the late menopausal transition.
The numbers in the study were small so the results, while important, stil need to be borne out in larger sample sizes. But, it appears promising that AMH can detect menopause within three years, a healthy dose of reality that may ultimately prove important in disease prevention as we age.Read More