What is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural process, wherein the female no longer has periods and cannot get pregnant naturally. It mostly occurs at the age of 45 and 55 years.
During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles declines rapidly and follicle-stimulating hormone i.e. FSH no longer causes egg development. The surge in luteinizing hormone, normally seen in menstruating women is unable to occur. This causes a decrease in estrogen and cessation of menstruation.
There is a range of symptoms a woman going through menopause experiences. There is a change in the pattern of periods. Sometimes there is an exceptionally heavy and sometimes very light flow. Eventually, the periods stop.
In addition to the changes in periods, there are other symptoms, which include:
- Reduced libido
- Hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Mood changes
The symptoms are usually seen lasting for 4 years but vary for each woman.
The decrease in estrogen levels is also associated with reduced bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.
Is it Possible to Delay Menopause?
If you’re near menopause age there is not much you can do to delay it(2).
But, you can surely consider certain factors that may contribute to the later beginning of natural menopause.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Those who breastfeed their babies for seven to 12 months during infancy have low changes of starting menopause before 45 years.
A study was done to analyze the pregnancy and breastfeeding history of 100,000 women between the ages of 25 to 42 years(3). It was found a full-term pregnancy lowered the risk of early menopause by 8 percent and two pregnancies lower it by 16 percent and third pregnancy by 22 percent.
Breastfeeding if done for a total of 25 months lowered the risk by 27 percent.
A study shows, using birth control pills during reproductive years is associated with later menopause, especially in black women(4).
More research is needed to understand the role of birth control pills in delaying menopause.
Some researchers feel the birth control pills delay menopause by preventing the release of eggs(5). It is because menopause starts as the egg supply is depleted. A few other researchers feel it’s not the number of eggs but the functioning of ovarian follicles that delay menopause.
According to a study, in which 2200 women were surveyed, it was found that educated women reach menopause much later in their life than uneducated women(6).
The research was done encompassing 24 nations, and a clear association was found between educational level and later age of natural menopause.
Moderate Use of Alcohol
There is a mixed finding when studying the effect of alcohol consumption and menopause.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 20 studies that included 100,000 women found that low-to-moderate consumption of alcohol was associated with later onset of menopause(7).
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), moderate drinking is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men(8).
If you do not consume alcohol, it does not mean you start it to delay menopause, as it is not an effective way to delay it.
Diet High in Calories, Fruits, and Protein
A study found eating oily fish and fresh legumes daily delayed menopause by several years(10).
Also, another study found, consuming Vitamin D via dairy lowers the risk of early menopause by 17 percent(11).
The nutritional needs of the different bodies vary. It is, therefore, important to consult a healthcare provider when planning a big alteration in diet.
What Factors Hasten the Onset of Menopause?
Along with the family history and ethnicity, there are several factors that can bring in menopause early. They include:
- Vegetarian diet
- Low sun exposure
- Abstinence from alcohol
- Low income and educational levels
- Increase polyunsaturated fats, refined pasta, and rice in the diet
How Does Delaying Menopause Affect Health?
Delay in menopause is associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures(12).
There can also be a downside of delayed menopause. It can increase the risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers(14).
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