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Premature menopause: Causes, symptoms, treatment

Lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking, thyroid or auto-immune diseases, exposure to radiation like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and poor nutrition can also cause premature menopause

More and more women in India are today facing the problem of premature menopause, some even before bearing a child. A recent study done by The Institute For Social and Economic Change has inferred that nearly 4 per cent Indian women experience signs of menopause between the age of 29 and 34 years, while for women in the age group of 35 and 39 years, the figure is 8 per cent. The average age of menopause in India it is 47, while worldwide it is 51 years.

Early menopause is a state when the final menstrual period occurs before a women turns 40 years.

“Every month I see a woman or two less than 40 years of age with menopause. And, at least six or seven girls around 32-34 years of age come every month with low AMH (anti-mullerian hormone), which indicates impending menopause,” says Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, gynecologist & obstetrician, Apollo Cradle Royale, Delhi.

Reasons
One of the reasons of premature menopause is premature ovarian failure (POF), a condition when ovaries stop functioning normally before the age of 40. The exact cause of POF is yet not known, but changing food habits, work culture with increased stress are some of the reasons.

Stress, along with poor diet, heavy drinking, and smoking, plays a role in early menopause, but it is not yet established if stress alone can cause early menopause. However, stress makes a woman experience the symptoms of menopause more severely.

Lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking, thyroid or auto-immune diseases, exposure to radiation like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and poor nutrition can also cause premature menopause.

Genital tuberculosis can also lead ovaries to fail.

The age at which a woman attains menopause can also be genetic. There is a strong association between mothers and daughters, siblings and twins.

Other reasons for premature menopause is surgery (when ovaries are removed surgically- oophorectomy), chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

“Early menopause is a condition caused due to depletion of estrogen stores. Apart from reasons listed above, pollutants in the air also have an added effect. Further, lack of fat in the body also causes early menopause as the estrogen is stored in peripheral fat. So this women obsession with size zero and zero animal fat diet (vegan) are also causing early menopause,” says Dr Ahuja.

Symptoms
The symptoms of premature menopause are same as those of normal one. These include hot flashes, mood swings, change in pattern of periods, crying spells and sleeplessness. “If you experience these, you should consult any fertility centre and go for a blood test. If your FSH level (follicle stimulating hormone) is more than 25mIU/L then you may have POF,” says Dr. Anubha Singh, an infertility expert.

Effects
According to a study done by Prof Steve Horvath of the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California (Los Angeles), women who go through menopause earlier than others are more likely to age faster and are most vulnerable to age-related diseases. Prof Horvath teaches human genetics and biostatistics at the university.

Other effects include brittle nails, thinning of hair, wrinkles, adult acne and weight gain.
“Other implications include dryness of vagina and mucous membranes which leads to sexual problems. Skin, heart and bone health are all estrogen dependent and lack of estrogen affects these organs,” informs Dr Ahuja. “Further, it has a grave effect on the psyche as well,” she adds.

What you can do about it
“To begin with please add some desi ghee in your diet,” says Dr Ahuja, “and cut smoking and stress from your life.”

Go for natural treatments to help relieve hot flashes. Eat soy as it contains phytoestrogens. The best sources of soy are tofu, soy powder, soymilk and soy nuts.

Be physically active. An active lifestyle can lower your risk of premature menopause. Doing aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, three times a week is important.

Make sure to have a multivitamin supplement everyday. Your body must receive an ample supply of Vitamin D, E, zinc and magnesium.

Eat foods that are rich in calcium such as cheese, almonds, green leafy vegetables, milk, fortified cereals like corn flakes, and raisin bran.

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