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What causes menopause? Why do some people start it earlier in life and some later? What are the signs to look for and how can we lessen the severity of the symptoms? All this and more on menopause in this week’s episode of Sexplanations brought to you by 23 and Me, the ones who make home-kits to analyze your DNA.
Dr. Lindsey Doe: This episode of Sexplanations is sponsored by 23andMe, a genetic analysis company that can take a sample of your DNA and tell you lots of great things about your health, traits and ancestry. 

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When I was 12, my best friend and I snuck into the staff-onlu bathroom at our middle school and poked around. Above the sink was a medicine cabinet, and in it was a small colorful hand fan with a sticky-note on it that said "for hot flashes." I knew hot flashes had something to do with sexual maturity, but I didn't really understand that "I want to tear my top off" instant wave of heat might someday happen to me. 

Ah, menopause, or what some call "the change of life," when ovaries stop producing estrogen and the reproductive cycle ends. It usually affects people in their 40s and 50s, but can start much earlier, like the age I am now - 35.

SciShow recently did a video on why humans go through menopause. My question is: what causes it? Why does it start early for some, and late for others?

Here's the answer. The main reason perimenopause - which is the time leading up to menopause, and menopause itself (12 consecutive months of not having periods happen, is because of:

Time - the natural aging process.

Then there's heredity, like how I will probably go through menopause around age 54 because my mother went through it at 54, and my grandmother went through it at 54.

Damage to the ovaries from:
  • endometriosis
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Chemotherapy
  • oophorectomies
which makes sense, because no ovaries, no estrogen.

Lifestyle Choices affect the onset of menopause as well. Smoking works against estrogen in the body, so if you smoke, you're more likely to reach menopause at least one to two years earlier than if you were smoke-free.

Living at higher altitudes also contributes to early-onset, so does lack of exerciselack of sun exposure and lack of protein.

Chromosomal causes of menopause include:
  • Turner Syndrome - where only one of the X chromosomes is complete
  • Pure Gonadal Dysgenesis - in which ovaries under-develop
  • Trisomy 13 & 18 - referring to extra 13th and 18th chromosomes that can throw off timing of menopause.

Then there are the autoimmune diseases in which the body is attacked by its own immune system. Examples of these are:
  • thyroid disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis (both known to inflame the ovaries.)
  • epilepsy - people with epilepsy are 14 times more likely to prematurely enter menopause than people without it.

I imagine this all seems pretty baffling, and there are lots of variables - including many we don't even understand yet. What I can tell you is that scientists are working on designing tests that will at least give us a better understanding of when menopause will happen. Until then, perimenopause and menopause are recognized by their symptoms.

  • Heavy bleeding
  • spotting
  • longer periods
  • bleeding after years of no bleeding (without any other explanations)
  • moodiness
  • thinning hair
  • changes in sexual feelings or desire
  • vaginal dryness
  • skin dryness
  • trouble sleeping
  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • loss of bladder control
  • feeling less social
  • being way more into naps

All of which come and go to varying degrees for years. Now you may be wondering to yourself, much like I did, if menopause is going to happen anyways, why not get it over with? Why not intentionally cause it? For one Healthline states menopause is correlated with an increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, parkinson's-like symptoms, depression, dementia and premature death. People who start menopause early are often prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to avoid these outcomes, but HRT and Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) are known factors for heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer.

There's also the issue of infertility. Without the production of eggs, it's harder to become pregnant. The best advice I can give you is to be prepared for menopause, not try to expedite it.

Here are some scientifically proven ways to be prepared and ease the experience. First, since memory and learning abilities can weaken around menopause, it's good to do regular brain teasers, puzzles, crosswords, learning a new language, or teaching someone else one of your skill sets.

Diet-wise, increase the amount of vegetables you eat, and omega-3. That's your fish, nuts and seeds. Reduce sugars, alcohol, and caffeine, especially to avoid hot flashes. (I'm not looking forward to those!) Keep a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) with stretching and exercise, but don't minimize your body fat too extremely. Estrogen, the messenger that keeps eggs lined up, is stored in fat - so the less fat you have, the faster the estrogen stores are depleted.

Finally, take time for yourself to unwind and meditate. Good relaxation techniques can lessen the severity of symptoms, and put you in a better state to cope with them. It's okay to treat yourself well, to plan ahead, and change habits so things are easier for you. Hopefully you can have a little fun while doing it, and stay curious!

Thank you to 23andMe for sponsoring this episode, and for sending me a kit. Package - mouth-plate - sample - slobber. By sending this kit in from 23andMe, I can find out what part of the world my ancestors originated from, what influenced my facial features, my hair, sense of smell, and how my genes play into my lifestyle choices. I can learn about my well-being, and have a better sense of my body as it pertains to my activities in bed. Like the deep sleep and sleep movement reports. If you're interested in potentially finding some fascinating answers too, or you think your mom would like a thoughtful gift for Mother's Day, check out you can get $20 off before May 14th, Mother's Day.

I'm going to go register my kit and send in the results. I'll let you know what I learn.