Our bodies change as we age, this we know to be true. But for some of us, the changes that we’ve come to expect at particular points in our lives don’t always follow the schedule that we expect them to, and when that happens, it’s normal to wonder what’s going on to affect your body’s unique timeline. Which brings us to the question du jour: menopause. (Okay, that’s not a question, but the question is: what’s the deal with early menopause, and why do some women experience it?)
Most commonly, women experience menopause somewhere between their mid-40s and their early 50s, as their ovaries stop producing eggs and the body sees a strong decline in reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which help control the menstrual cycle.
For a small percentage of women though, menopause can strike early due to what’s called primary ovarian insufficiency, or POI. “Early menopause,” which is defined as menopause that hits between the ages of 40-45, affects about five percent of women, while “premature menopause,” or menopause that occurs under the age of 40, affects about one percent of women. Still, many women don’t necessarily know what to make of it if their bodies don’t really adhere to the typical menopausal timeline. To that point, OB-GYN and women’s health expert Dr. Anna Cabeca shed some light on the reasons behind why some women might experience menopause earlier than normal. And while there are some more specific circumstances that could lead to early menopause – a hysterectomy that triggers immediate menopause, for example, or certain cancer therapies that may induce early menopause – one of the circumstances that more women may identify with is stress.
“Stress and emotional turmoil can sharply raise or lower secretions of stress hormones like cortisol,” says Dr. Cabeca. “This alters the normal functioning of other key hormones and whittles away parts of our chromosomes, accelerating aging and possibly kicking someone into premature or early menopause.”
As if we needed one more reason to keep stress at bay – because, you know, it wasn’t enough that it was standing in the way of weight loss or totally sabotaging our libido – women might be wise to consider moderating their stress early on in order to lessen their chances of experiencing strong hormonal imbalances that lead to premature or early menopause.