If you are reading this article, it is safe to assume that you are using a computer. Like all intricate machines, your computer will slowly degrade over time. It will become slower, accumulate viruses, and stop holding a charge. Like a computer, our bodies contain machinery that becomes obsolete over time. Unlike a computer, our programmed obsolescence can act as a major evolutionary advantage! Today we are going to break down menopause.
At birth, a woman’s ovaries contain a finite number of around 1,000,000 eggs. After the initial development of these eggs in utero, a woman will never produce more. By time a woman hits puberty, the number has already dwindled to around 300,000. Normally, 1 egg is released each month during ovulation (Woodruff, 2008). As women age, the existing pool of eggs becomes less and less viable. The passage of time begins to degrade the eggs, until there are very few viable ones left. As the number of eggs decreases, the ovaries produce less and less estrogen and progesterone (Mayo Clinic, 2020) .
These changes in hormones will cause the menstrual cycle to slow and eventually stop. Menopause begins after the last egg is released from the ovaries. At this point, the woman is no longer fertile and will experience several changes due to the decrease in hormone production. In terms of physical changes, postmenopausal women see decreased bone density (often leading to osteoporosis and increased likelihood for breaks), increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and dysregulation of the immune system (often aggravating existing or establishing new auto immune disorders) (Mayo Clinic, 2020; Ghosh, Rodriguez-Garcia, & Wira, 2014). In terms of mental health changes, postmenopausal women experience increased rates of Major Deppresive Disorder (MDD), and may be an increased risk factor for anxiety and sleep disorders (however, more research must be done on this end to fully piece together this relationship) (Hue et al., 2016).
Like all wonderful machines, the female reproductive system becomes outdated with age. Unlike traditional machines, this should not be seen as a negative! The beginning of menopause is a milestone in every woman’s life. It signals the transition from the prospects of motherhood and caring for young children, to a new phase of life focussed more on self care and personal exploration. Menopause is not the end of womanhood, but the beginning of a new, rewarding stage of it.