When Will My Menopause Start?
There are several factors which make a difference to when your menopause starts, and not all of them are in your control.
It’s a question many women wonder about, especially if you’re thinking about planning a family and your 20s are but a distant memory.
How many more years of fertility might you have, and how much longer will it be before you start experiencing “the change?”
Here’s what does – and does not – influence the age at when you might reach menopause.
The main factor in determining your menopause
There are a number of factors that affect women’s age at menopause, but one is more important than any other: the age their mother experienced menopause.
“Menopause is strongly genetically linked, so you’re very likely to fall within a few years either way of the age your mother was at menopause,” according to Nanette Santoro, MD, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine.
This isn’t always true, of course. Some women reach menopause at an unusually early age — before 45 or so — with no known cause, which could be the result of an inherited issue or a one-time genetic mutation.
“These can be random events, but can also be passed on,” says Howard Zacur, MD, PhD, who directs the reproductive endocrinology and infertility division at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
So if your mother reached menopause at 40, but her sisters and your grandmother were all around the average age of 50, it’s unclear whether you’ll follow your mother’s path or theirs.
But if most of the women in your family, your mother included, reach menopause early, late, or somewhere in the middle, you can eye your calendar with some degree of confidence.
What else can influence your start date?
Your mother’s age at menopause is a key factor, but not the only one. Here are four others to consider:
Smoking. No other lifestyle factor does more damage to your ovaries than smoking.
So if you smoke and your mother didn’t, you’ll probably reach menopause earlier than she did. If she smoked and you don’t, you probably reach menopause later than she did.
Chemotherapy. Most forms of chemotherapy used in younger women are at least mildly toxic to the ovaries.
Many women go through temporary menopause while undergoing chemotherapy; if cycles do return (they don’t always), you can still expect to reach regular menopause a couple of years earlier than you otherwise would have.
Ovarian surgery. “The more you operate on the ovaries, the more healthy tissue gets damaged,” says Marcelle Cedars, MD, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at the University of California, School of Medicine.
So if you’ve had diagnostic surgery for endometriosis, for example, you could look at other options to treat the condition in order to avoid repetitive surgeries.
Bioidentical progesterone is one of those options to help women with endometriosis, a condition often linked to oestrogen dominance.
What won’t influence your start date?
Here are three things you might think would influence menopause age, but don’t:
Age at first period. Although the average age of the first period has been getting younger there hasn’t been a corresponding shift in the average age at menopause.
The average age of the first period is between the ages of 10 and 15, with an average age of about 12.4 years old, down from 13.3 in women born prior to the 1920s, but the average age at menopause has been around 51.5 for decades.
You would assume that a woman only has so many cycles in her life and if she menstruates later she’ll reach menopause later, but that doesn’t seem to be true.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding. These have no impact on menopause age at all – whether you have one or more children, and breastfeed or not.
Hormonal birth control methods. Even if you’re using a birth control method that stops ovulation, it doesn’t stop the loss of follicles, the constant process of the ovary taking them from the resting pool of eggs.
All the follicles available that month die away, even if you’re not ovulating, so birth control doesn’t appear to delay menopause.
Ethnicity. A study of premenopausal and early perimenopausal women found that race/ethnicity played no role in what age the women experienced menopause.
In the United States in The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) they looked at a cross section of women from different races from seven states and found that most of the women experienced menopause between the ages of 52 and 54.
What else do you need to know?
Some factors are still unknowns. For instance, some research links exposure to certain “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals to earlier age at menopause. But it’s not certain that those chemicals cause earlier menopause, since the research only shows an association and doesn’t rule out other possible causes.
Overall, the typical age when menopause starts hasn’t changed much over the years that these chemicals have been around.
So clearly there is no way to delay menopause; it can only be sped up, not slowed down, by external factors.
However, if you’re over the age of 45 and skip at least three periods in a row, that tells us that you’re going to move on to menopause relatively soon. So it’s a good idea to start checking your hormone balance to ensure you get early control of symptoms.
Both progesterone and oestrogen decline at Menopause, but most women continue to produce oestrogen in the fat cells of the stomach, abdomen and thighs. However progesterone levels decline much more sharply and if oestrogen levels have been raised you are likely to be affected by oestrogen dominance, which rebalancing with progesterone can help.
If you would like some natural help with balancing your hormones, then this article will give you some ideas.