Menopause may have an evolutionary function, but for many women it can be distressing and undesirable. New gene analysis is attempting to uncover what determines the age of onset.
Does the trigger lie in the genes?
In the first of its kind, an international study of nearly 70,000 women of European ancestry, has identified 40 areas of the genome that predict the age of menopause. Two thirds of these are perhaps unsurprisingly dedicated to DNA repair functions.
The data suggests that individuals with more efficient repair mechanisms manage to stave off the change for longer, and reinforces evidence that consumption of toxic substances (like smoking) can cause an earlier menopause. DNA is continually damaged throughout a person's life, and the creation of eggs gradually causes more accumulation. Possessing more effective variants in these 40 regions likely protects eggs for longer, slowing down their loss.
"Many women today are choosing to have babies later in life, but they may find it difficult to conceive naturally because fertility starts to diminish at least 10 years before menopause. Our research has substantially increased our understanding of how reproductive ageing in women happens, which we hope will lead to the development of new treatments to avoid early menopause."
An earlier menopause isn't entirely bad, as it can significantly reduce risk of breast cancer, but it comes with a number of health problems and difficulties. It could be that research like this helps push back the age of onset.
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