Menopause in your 20s. It seems like a strange concept, implying that females who have only recently reached womanhood are abruptly finding themselves experiencing the same symptoms that most women experience in their 50s.
A recent study conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) has found that a surprising proportion of Indian women are experiencing just that. The survey reported that four percent of women in India begin to experience menopause between the ages of 29 and 34, while eight percent of Indian women are experiencing menopause between the ages of 35 and 39.
When compared to women across the rest of the world, who experience menopause at an average age of 51, this is a little concerning. According to the ISEC’s findings, these women would often notice an irregular menstrual cycle which would then cease altogether. A worried visit to a gynecologist would then confirm that they have undergone premature menopause.
According to Dr. Shobha Gupta, medical director and I.V.F. specialist at Mother’s Lap I.V.F. Centre, one of the likely reasons for this jumping of the gun could be Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). Dr. Gupta, who was interviewed by The Hindu last month, explained that POF is a condition whereby the ovaries stop functioning as they should before the age of 40. “The cause of POF goes undetermined in [the] majority of the cases, but changing food habits, work culture with increased stress are some of the reasons,” Dr. Gupta explained.
The symptoms of POF are the same as those of natural menopause and include a change in period patterns, hot flashes (also known as hot flushes), mood swings, abrupt crying episodes, and insomnia.
What these women are experiencing in India should be seen as a stern warning for women in other countries. Shantah I.V.F. Centre’s Dr. Anubha Singh, an infertility specialist, stated that “lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking, thyroid or autoimmune diseases, exposure to radiation like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and poor nutrition can also cause premature menopause. Along with this, genital tuberculosis can also lead ovaries to fail.”
While genital tuberculosis may be slightly beyond an American woman’s required sphere of concern, the rest of those variables should hit very close to home. Things like smoking, excessive drinking, thyroid conditions and autoimmune diseases are becoming all too common in this area of the world, and like our Indian counterparts, this could be putting us at greater risk of premature menopause.
Steps to avoid premature menopause
While the ISEC survey did indicate that there may be a hereditary element to the likelihood of a woman reaching menopause at an uncommonly early age, the strength of this link was not well understood. What we do know, however, is that eating a poor diet, exercising infrequently, stressing excessively, drinking and smoking can all put women at greater risk.
Luckily, there’s plenty of simple steps you can take to prevent such an occurrence from coming to pass.
1. Take control of your diet
Regardless of the plethora of diets and eating plans out there, a diet which is rich in whole foods is always a good course of action. Adopt a policy of avoiding pre-packed, processed goods in favor of foods which haven’t been refined or modified in any way, like vegetables, fruits, meats and nuts. If you can recognize where they come from, they’re likely a whole lot better for you than those which come in a fancy package but are light years removed from their original state.
Place particular emphasis on vegetables over fruit, which is high in fructose and can elevate your blood sugar levels and contribute to conditions like diabetes when consumed in excess. In terms of meat, vary what you eat on a daily basis, cycling through beef, chicken, pork, fish and other seafood so that you can get all their nutritive benefits while lowering your risk of developing an allergy to any one source. Try to buy organic where possible, but if you’re limited by what’s available then prioritize your organic produce using the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” advisories.
2. Get your lifestyle in order
Be sure to get plenty of sleep by sticking to a nightly routine, avoiding electronic devices and excessive lighting before bed, and keeping your bedroom dark and quiet. Exercise is also very important, not only to get your blood flowing and control your weight, but also to ensure strong muscles and bones, get you away from your computer or phone, and help you sleep better at night.
3. Minimize stress
Stress, while a vital part of human existence, can begin to damage the body when it is elevated for extended periods of time. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, chronic exposure to which can promote inflammation, mental conditions and disease. Have you ever wondered why you always get a cold or flu after a particularly stressful week at work? Well, there’s a reason for that!
Be mindful of your body and what you expose it to, and you’ll dramatically lower your risk of becoming another POF statistic.
— Liivi Hess
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