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Medicare Part D

 

Menopause And Genetics

The large variation in ages for the onset of menopause has interested researchers for years. It seemed mysterious that individuals living in very similar environments and having very similar lives could have a menopause onset as much as ten years apart from one another. Studies dating back as far as 1998 have shown that there is a strong genetic factor; as much as 50% of the timing of your last period is governed by inherited genetics.

There may also be many other factors at play. Currently at debate are topics as far-ranging as race, BMI, onset of menses, alcohol usage, breast feeding, and the number of children a woman has. Another question that has been raised is the effect of dietary estrogens, such as the phytoestrogens found in abundance in soy beans and soy products. It isn’t clear how these factors influence, or don’t influence, the time of menopause.

However, researchers have identified as many as four different gene markers that can affect menopause. In different combinations they have different effects, which goes a long way toward explaining why women experience menopause at so many different times in their lives.

One very prominent marker is carried on the X chromosome; male carriers of this gene marker develop Fragile X Syndrome, which is one of the more common causes of autism or other forms of severe intellectual disability in men. Females with a single Fragile X chromosome display widely varying degrees of the syndrome, but across all carriers there is a 25% greater chance of premature menopause - menopause before the age of 40.

The factors that control the timing of menopause are less clear than those affecting the onset of menses. It is particularly difficult to study menopause because it is defined retrospectively: formally, after an adult woman has experienced no menstruation for a full year, she is considered to have been in menopause starting at the end of her last menstrual period. Because of the long gap between the critical event and the time when it can be detected, it is very hard to study environmental factors.

Fortunately for researchers, it is possible to study genetics as they relate to menopause, as long as the subjects are able to provide a DNA sample and a known date of menopause. Because of this, great strides have been made in recent years in discovering genetic factors that are related to menopause.

 

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