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.
When does menopause start for most women?
Thereâ€™s an enormous range of â€œnormalâ€ 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, studies show that Black and Latina women often experience menopause around two years younger than White and Asian women do.
Is there anything you can do to put it off?
If you are nearing the age when you expect your periods to end, researchers think there probably isnâ€™t much you can do to change the timing. But over the course of a lifetime, several factors may contribute to a later beginning of natural menopause. Although more research needs to be done about the habits and traits that extend reproductive life, here is what we now know.
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 study analyzed the pregnancy and breastfeeding history of over 100,000 women between the ages of 25 and 42.
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, studies show. More research needs to be done to understand why birth control pills delay menopause.
Some researchers theorize that by preventing the release of eggs, birth control pills extend reproductive life because menopause starts once the egg supply is depleted. Other researchers say itâ€™s not the number of eggs but the functioning of ovarian follicles that triggers menopause.
According to one study that surveyed nearly 2200 women, educated women reach menopause later in life than uneducated women do. In a research review that analyzed 46 studies encompassing 24 nations, researchers found a clear association between educational level and a later age of natural menopause. The reasons for this connection are not entirely clear.
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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines â€œmoderateâ€ as having one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. If you donâ€™t already drink alcohol, though, the CDC recommends against starting now, and drinking alcohol is likely not an effective way to delay menopause.
Diets high in calories, fruits, and protein
Including lots of fruit and protein in your diet is associated with a later onset of natural menopause; so is consuming more calories in general. In fact, researchers have found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) predicts a later menopause. One large British study found that eating oily fish and fresh legumes delayed menopause by several years.
Another study found that consuming Vitamin D in dairy products lowers your risk of early menopause by up to 17 percent over women who consumed less. Your bodyâ€™s overall nutritional needs may be different, so itâ€™s a good idea for you to discuss any big changes in your diet with your healthcare provider.
What does delayed menopause mean for your overall health?
On the positive side, a later menopause is associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures. When people reach menopause at a later age, they also have a lower risk of dying as a result of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
The news is not all rosy, though. Delayed menopause does pose a higher risk of breast, endometrial (uterine), and ovarian cancers.
What accelerates the onset of menopause?
In addition to your family history and ethnicity, several factors can make it more likely that youâ€™ll reach menopause 1-3 years younger:
- abstaining from alcohol
- vegetarian diet
- diets high in polyunsaturated fat, refined pasta, and rice
- low lifetime sun exposure
- low income and educational levels
What should I expect once menopause arrives?
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 youâ€™re deciding whatâ€™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 â€” 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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