Women who are going through menopause might have quite a bit to say about why you don’t want to experience the process any earlier than necessary. On the other hand, starting menopause a little early can seem like a blessing for some women, especially those who are scared to death of getting pregnant again but don’t like hormone-based birth control products or those who are tired of having a period every month. Plus, aren’t there enough new-fangled menopause remedies on the market to make hot flashes and low libido a thing of the past?
The problem with early menopause, however, is that the hormonal changes responsible for the process can lead to other health risks and conditions that are not so desirable.
Starting Menopause Early Isn’t as Desirable as You Might Think
On average, women go through menopause at around age 50, although the earliest signs and symptoms of menopause typically begin, often unnoticed, in their 40s. This period of time, the four to five years preceding normal menopause, is referred to as perimenopause. Its symptoms are similar to menopause but they may be more mild and sporadic. They include:
- Lighter than normal or occasionally skipped periods
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- A reduced libido
- Pain or discomfort during intercourse
- Unusual weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning hair
FYI: Perimenopause is not the same thing as early menopause.
Early menopause is diagnosed when a woman goes through menopause at or before age 40. Interestingly enough, many women around the country are starting menopause a little earlier than they are supposed to due to higher exposure to hormone-disrupting environmental toxins. To read more about this phenomenon, check out our blog titled, “Are Common Household Items Triggering Your Early Menopause?” The consequences of early menopause can negatively impact your long-term health on a variety of fronts, mainly as a result of decreased estrogen and progesterone production.
These two hormones, it turns out, protect your body on many fronts. They promote calcium absorption in the bones, help your body react to insulin so it can regulate blood sugar levels, and they help you to keep your weight at manageable levels, which decreases your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Once production of these invisible hormone protectors is diminished, your body may suffer the effects.
- Osteoporosis. Since your ability to absorb calcium is reduced, so too is your body’s ability to build and maintain healthy bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis. As estrogen levels decline, most doctors will recommend a special calcium supplement to prevent the onset of osteoporosis, which weakens bones and can cause a noticeable curvature of the spine. Weight bearing exercise, even gentle ones like yoga or Pilates, will also help to keep your bones healthy and strong.
- Type 2 Diabetes. When your body loses its sensitivity to insulin, it has trouble regulating your blood sugar. The combination of insulin resistance and increased weight gain can lead to the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, changes in diet and lifestyle can greatly reduce your susceptibility to diabetes, which leads to further medical complications and a diminished quality of life.
- Heart disease. That same increase in weight can also jeopardize heart health. This is especially true for those who have smoked in the past or participated in other lifestyle habits that are bad for the heart. Heart disease is the leading killer of women and the chances of suffering from heart disease spike for women who are 50 years and over, as do your chances of having a stroke.
- Cognition. Recent studies also show a correlation between early menopause and decreased mental faculties. Women who experienced early menopause were 40% more likely to suffer cognitive deficits in verbal fluency and memory tasks.
If you are under the age of 45 and have noticed signs of perimenopause, please make an appointment with Women’s Health Associates to discuss what you can do to remain as healthy and vibrant as possible.