Causes of Early Menopause
When a woman’s reproductive organs change, this signals the ovaries to stop producing eggs. Typically, this occurs at around age 50. Officially the end of the menstrual cycle indicates menopause and is diagnosed after a year with no periods. Women can no longer get pregnant. It is a natural life event that affects about 80% of women with differing degrees of symptoms. However, this does not mean the symptoms start at age 50. The symptoms can start many years earlier and continue for many years after.
There are 3 possible menopause stages.
- Perimenopause is the transition phase with fluctuating hormones and the onset of symptoms.
- Menopause commences when a woman has not had a period for more than twelve months.
- Post-menopause may mean symptoms cease, but for most women they continue for a number of years.
But what causes early menopause?
Premature menopause challenges women in their forties to the ratio of about 1 in 100. This may be a result of the ovaries ceasing to function, or the removal of ovaries by a hysterectomy, or aggressive cancer therapies.
Dysfunctional ovaries can also be called ‘premature ovarian insufficiency’, with an unexplainable cause. It could be lifestyle factors, stress or a genetic disposition. There is no evidence to link early menopause with oral contraceptives. Fertility issues will arise as getting pregnant will be impaired. Do consult your doctor if you have concerns.
Surgically removed ovaries and uterus makes the hormone levels fall by at least 50% within 24 hours of surgery and menopause symptoms can start immediately. Retention of the ovaries may not mean inevitably going straight into menopause, but it will mean menopause can occur a few years earlier than expected.
Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can cause the ovaries to halt production. This is called ‘acute ovarian failure’. Periods may stop and then return after many months, with menopause symptoms flowing and ebbing depending on hormone production.
The major cause is declining reproductive hormones; mainly oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The endocrine system produces the hormones that flow through the bloodstream. It is a rigid, regulated system that keeps hormones at the correct concentrations. The ovaries, adrenal glands and fat tissues secrete to control bodily functions and the glands send the hormones to the bloodstream. Think of hormones as chemical messages. So, when the hormone production declines, woman experience all those dastardly symptoms – such as irregular periods, heavy bleeding, hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, insomnia, vaginal dryness, weight gain etc. It can be quite a comprehensive symptom list with all women having differing menopause encounters.
The main hormone producing glands are:- hypothalamus, pituitary, parathyroid, pancreas, thyroid, adrenal, pineal and the ovaries. The pituitary is the ‘master gland’ that controls all the others and makes hormones trigger growth. Consider the hormone as a key with locks on cell walls. If the hormone key fits the cell wall it operates. The released hormone affects the organs and relayed signals control additional hormone release.
When girls begin puberty, they have about 400,000 eggs, but by the age of 50, women have fewer than a few hundred, if any at all. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is the substance responsible for egg growth and the overall function of the reproductive system. FHS is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. During menopause the eggs become resistant to FHS and there is a dramatic decrease in producing oestrogen. Oestrogen affects many body organs, and it is the loss of oestrogen that causes the menopause symptoms. At the same time, the ovaries reduce production of the sex drive hormone, testosterone.
There are 3 types of oestrogen.
- Estrone is present in the body after menopause. It is thought that estrone may act as a reservoir that can be transformed into estradiol if needed. Produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, it originates from the conversion of androgens.
- Estradiol’s main function is to maintain the reproductive system, by assisting egg release and thickening the uterus lining in preparation for implanting a fertilised egg. Low levels can cause weight gain and heart disease. Too high levels may result in low libido, osteoporosis and depression, plus an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Estriol helps the uterus prepare the body for birth. The placenta creates estriol.
Currently hormone replacement therapy is the medicinal option, but today women have a tendency to look for natural supplements. To help alleviate the symptoms, Nature’s Help offers a recently launched natural menopause range.
Written by Mona Hecke
Mona Hecke is a degree qualified Naturopath, nutrition specialist and health and wellness writer.
With over 20 years in the health industry, beginning with a focus on children and families, and a bestselling book ‘The Lunchbox Revolution’, Mona is now empowering women through education and conversation to take action and embrace change. Gut health, mindfulness, nutrition, hormones, and menopause are the topics that women want and need to know to create their healthy future.
Mona holds certifications in Lifestyle Coaching, Kinesiology, holistic herbal medicine, and nutrition.
A recognised leader in the health industry, Mona’s strong social media presence and passion for influencing change will continue to be a catalyst for health reform for the benefit of every Australian.