Medically speaking, menopause means you haven’t had a period for at least 12 months in a row. The transition from having regular or irregular periods to having none at all can take much longer than a year, though. For some women, it’s 8 years or more. So, what factors influence when you’ll begin that transition? Can you do anything to change when you begin menopause?
While genetics play a big role in determining the age when menopause starts, scientists think your diet, exercise habits, socioeconomic status, and other lifestyle factors may also be influential.
Though a healthcare provider is the best source of information regarding your reproductive health and any concerns you have about menopause, read on to explore the factors that may contribute to when it starts.
There’s an enormous range of “normal” when it comes to natural menopause and perimenopause. Health professionals say it could begin in your 40s, but the average age in the U.S. is 51 years old.
Your family history and ethnicity may affect the overall schedule. For example,
If you are nearing the age when you expect your periods to end,
Pregnancy and breastfeeding history
If you breastfed your babies for seven to twelve months during their infancy, you have lowered your chances of starting menopause before age 45. A recent
When adjusted for duration of breastfeeding, researchers found that one full-term pregnancy lowered the risk of early menopause by 8 percent, two pregnancies by 16 percent, and a third pregnancy by 22 percent. Breastfeeding for a combined total of 25 months lowered the risk by 27 percent (when compared to women who breastfed less than a month).
Using birth control pills during your reproductive years are associated with later onset of menopause, especially for Black women,
Moderate alcohol use
When considering the effects of alcohol consumption and menopause, the research is mixed with some studies finding no effect, others finding early menopause, and still others finding that alcohol consumption might delay the onset of menopause.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 20 studies that included over 100, 000 women total found, when comparing low-to-moderate alcohol intake, women who reported consuming 1-3 drinks a week, to non-drinkers, there was an association between low-to-moderate alcohol intake and later onset of menopause. However, the association was not strong, and the researchers concluded more research was needed.
Diets high in calories, fruits, and protein
Including lots of fruit and protein in your diet is
On the positive side, a later menopause is associated with a lower risk of
The news is not all rosy, though. Delayed menopause does pose a higher risk of breast, endometrial (uterine), and ovarian cancers.
In addition to your family history and ethnicity, several factors can make it more likely that you’ll reach menopause 1-3 years younger:
This important transition is different for every person who experiences it, but some symptoms are fairly common. As you enter perimenopause and live your way into menopause, you will probably experience several of these physical and emotional symptoms:
- less frequent or less predictable periods
- vasomotor symptoms (otherwise known as hot flashes and night sweats)
- vaginal dryness
- difficulty concentrating
- anxiety or depression
- weight gain
- lower sex drive
- reduced muscle and bone mass
- thinning hair
If menopause symptoms are getting in the way of living your life productively, talk with your healthcare provider about whether these treatments could work for you:
- hormone replacement therapy
- medications to help with depression, anxiety, insomnia, or vasomotor symptoms
- natural remedies like black cohosh and evening primrose oil
Each one of these treatments has benefits and risks you should consider as you’re deciding what’s right for your body.
The age at which you begin natural menopause is largely determined by your genes and family history. There are other contributors, however, most notably your diet, socioeconomic status, and smoking habits — that have some influence on when you will stop having periods.
The older you are, the less likely it is that a change in your habits will alter the onset of natural menopause. But, if you are concerned about the length of your reproductive life or you want to avoid some of the health issues that go along with very early or very late menopause, talk with your healthcare provider about changes you can make in advance to create a healthier life and easier transition.
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