Reduce Your Risk Of Early Menopause
Simple lifestyle modifications, such as an improving diet or quitting smoking, prove to be highly effective at reducing the risk for early menopause.
Menopause is defined as the cessation of a menstrual period for one year (without other conditions present), typically diagnosed at age 51, and begins with various symptoms about 5-8 years prior. Her mom’s genetics may provide clues regarding her age and experience throughout the process, but lifestyle and underlying health concerns also contribute to potentially entering menopause as early as her 30’s. However, strategies focused around optimizing hormone function at all stages of life and overall health can double as prevention both for early menopause and associated risks.
According to The North American Menopause Society, there isn’t a single test to diagnose menopause yet it is an accepted conclusion when follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) blood test is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher, and absence of menstrual period for a year without other pathology. In a normal menstrual cycle, FSH stimulates a few follicles (from set amount at birth) to secrete estrogen, but only one becomes dominant with the potential to become fertilized. Elevated levels of estrogen from the mature follicle suppresses FSH and triggers luteinizing hormone (LH) to release the follicle from the ovary, also known as ovulation. Finally, the dominant follicle becomes the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone to suppress FSH and LH, declines over the next few weeks, and she begins day 1 of her menstrual cycle. When the ovaries don’t have enough eggs, or viable eggs to produce, more FSH gets produced with the hopes to increase estrogen from developing follicles, while luteinizing hormone and progesterone also fluctuate as a result. Menstrual cycles may become various lengths and soon absent), and accompanied by changes in flow.
While menopause is a normal biological process, risk factors for early menopause include smoking, history of earlier, and shorter menstrual cycles, and history of heart disease (Gold, et. al., 2000; Harlow & Signorello, 2000). Hormonal imbalances such as early menses in girls are more common now than 30 years ago as precocious puberty (prevalence of sex characteristics before 8 years old or onset of menarche before age 9) is on the rise. Cesario and Hughes (2007) reported that this finding might be due to factors such as pediatric obesity, environmental toxins (e.g. chemicals, plasticizers, skin and hair products, assisted reproductive technologies), and psychosocial stress. Heart disease is expected to increase from 28.9% to 36.3% between 1990 and 2020, and projected to be the number one cause in number of years of life lost, up from fourth place (Hennekens, 1998). More than uncomfortable symptoms, early menopause can place women at higher risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, and mortality. One study demonstrated that U.S. women who experienced nonsurgical menopause before age 40 had a 50% higher mortality rate than those age 50 or older, and women between the ages of 40-49 at menopause had a 35% higher risk of mortality when compared to those over age 50 (Gold, et. al., 2000).
We are now in a world where the majority of conditions have multiple risk factors, and therefore multiple solutions are warranted to achieve optimal wellness and prevention. Hormone imbalances like acne and painful or heavy periods as a teenager were typically treated with oral contraceptives, a hormonal birth control in the form of a pill, except treatment is usually meant for a few months. Decades later, hormone replacement therapy becomes a popular treatment for menopause-related symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings. However, palliation with more hormones does not address the reason why, versus a mind-body approach.
Both prevention and symptoms relief begins with a healthful diet and lifestyle as a solid foundation of healthy habits can also help prevent heart disease, weight gain, osteoporosis, and many other conditions either directly or indirectly related to menopause. The Mediterranean diet, for example, includes foods that are rich in essential bioactive compounds like phenols, flavonoids, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats, that can protect against cancer, high blood pressure, immune conditions, and inflammatory responses (Ortega, 2006). Incorporating exercise and movement help encourage good bone health and cardiovascular health, and even gut health and proper elimination regarding complete digestion of valuable nutrients and metabolizing toxins, respectively. Throwing away chemical laden beauty products and cleaning products is an extremely beneficial change, as well as switching from tampons (include cancer promoting and hormone disrupting chemicals) to environmentally friendly sanitary napkins, as the vagina is four times as absorptive as our thinnest skin.
Stress management is also important in overall health especially when preserving function of our adrenal glands, two triangular shaped glands on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands are responsible for regulating our salt/water balance, sex hormone production (especially in menopause), and stress levels. When stress levels are chronically too high, or there’s long-term inflammation, then resources divert to cortisol production instead of hormone production, as reproduction is now not a priority. Deep breathing, yoga, taking part in favorite activities, and laughing, are all forms of activity that help relieve the stress response.
Modifying our life to achieve our best health in order to avoid to this new normal of chronic disease may feel overwhelming, especially when there are so many diseases with outcomes that can decrease quality of life, or even be fatal. Fortunately, creating sustainable changes with diet, lifestyle, exercise, and stress management will address multiple conditions and serve as preventative care. And if everything at once seems daunting, begin with one change- whether it’s deciding to quit smoking, consuming another vegetable with your meal, or incorporating a flight of stairs in your walk to work, and you’re already improving your health.
Learn more about Menopausal Syndrome by using the GreenMedInfo.com Research Dashboard.
Cesario, S.K. & Hughes, L.A. (2007). Precocious puberty: A comprehensive review of literature. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. 36(3):263-274.
Gold, E.B., et. al. (2000). Factors associated with age at natural menopause in a multiethnic sample of midlife women. American Journal of Epidemiology. 153(9):865-874.
Harlow, B.L. & Signorello, L.B. (2000). Factors associated with early menopause. Maturitas. 35(1):3-9.
Hennekins, C.H. (1998). Increasing burden of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 97:1095-1102.
Ortega, R. (2006). Importance of functional foods in the Mediterranean diet. Public Health Nutrition. 9(8A):1136-1140.
How Do I Know I’m In Menopause? The North American Menopause Society. Visited 10/28/16.