Sometimes chronic and prolonged stress may lead to early menopause or premature ovarian failure.
Anjali Malpani, Fertility Expert
Premature menopause, which is defined as not having a period for 12 consecutive months before age 40, is even more common in developing countries, where women who live in rural areas experience menopause about eight to ten years earlier than in the United States. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes early menopause, but a study from London’s Imperial College indicates that smoking and socioeconomic status may be at least partly to blame.
Another study, from the Boston University School of Public Health, supports these findings. Researchers analyzed the cases of 600 women between the ages of 36 and 45 and found that women who live under economic hardship are 80 percent more likely to experience early menopause. They suggest that this is due to a combination of factors — one being stress.
Stress symptoms and causes
Stress comes in many shapes and sizes, and may not even be perceived as stress at all. According to Dr. Evan Mladenoff, “Stress is an ignorant state of mind that believes everything is an emergency.” Stress does not have to produce anxiety or even be perceived consciously before your internal organs believe there is an emergency situation. There are forms of “good” stress like marriage, responsibility, competition, dating, and child birth as well as “bad” forms such as financial insecurity, violence, unemployment, low self esteem, and death. In actuality, our body does not associate stress as “good” or “bad,” but reacts the same way whether the stress is physical, chemical, or emotional. Our bodies were built to respond to stress and do so very well, but as stress becomes chronic (continual) the stress regulating parts of the body begin to fatigue, and no longer work as well as intended. These sluggish stress regulators make it harder for your body to stay healthy.
Stress (whether emotional, chemical, or physical) is processed in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends a message to the anterior pituitary gland which is a small gland in the brain that helps regulate all of your hormones. As the pituitary gland secrets hormones in the blood signaling stress, another gland called the adrenal gland responds by secreting cortisol.
Cortisol is designed to control the body’s response to stress by stimulating the body to calm down. When there is too much cortisol production, or a chronic situation where cortisol is released over a long period of time, side effects may occur. Many of these symptoms include disrupted sleep, poor digestion, weight gain, poor memory, and more.
As a woman, chronic cortisol secretion can contribute to menstrual disorders. High cortisol levels can lead to amenorrhea (stop menstruation), similar to heavy exercise. Excess cortisol creates a faster removal (conversion) of another hormone known as progesterone. As progesterone and estrogen become out of balance, and a woman nears menopausal age, her body often creates numerous symptoms of accelerated hormonal transition. Many women often report vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, weight gain, interrupted sleep, memory problems, heaviness in the bladder, and hot flashes as their hormones become out of balance.
Physical or emotional stress
While data supporting the extensive physical stress as the possible trigger for early menopause is solid, emotional stress influence significance is still debated by groups of experts.
The statement that women are under constant pressure have higher chances to get menopause early was supported by French researchers who confirmed that stressful working conditions may trigger the onset of the menopause. In their report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers studied 1,500 postmenopausal women. Nearly nine percent said they had stressful jobs.
"High-strain jobs were categorized as those which demanded at least one of the following: the need to rush, perform several tasks at once or frequent interruptions when working. However, the impact of these conditions was minimized when the woman in question had a high degree of control over the work she did,” said BBC News.
Members of this group were found to have menopause a year earlier than the other subjects. Dr. Bernard Cassou, who led the study, believes that stress affects the hormone balance and causes the aging of the ovaries.
However, still not all the experts agree on such conclusion. Professor John Studd, chair of the British Menopause Society openly expresses doubts on the relationship between stress and early menopause.
"People who want to find links do but there's a vast body of research which shows there is no evidence of a connection between stress and the menopause," he said.
While there is still no consensus on the topic, there is overwhelming evidence that stress can make the symptoms of menopause worse.
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