The average lifespan in the United States in the year 1900 was about 51, and in 1800 it was 39. The average age of menopause is about 51. Thus, in all of human history, menopause is a relatively new life stage. Most women simply did not live long enough to reach it, and those that did , did not spend much time in it.
Currently, the average lifespan for a women in the United States is 81. It is interesting to think about what may explain this. I think we have nutrition and health care to thank. As we were, before the modern age, we were able to reproduce for the majority of our lifespan. Could it be that we are outliving our design ? Or could it be that our nutrition and health have unlocked heretofore unexpressed genetic potential for long life? Either way, a modern woman will spend nearly 40% of her life in menopause, and this percentage will only increase as lifespan increases. Moreover, the number of people in menopause will increase as the population ages.
In the developed world, we can now eat a scientifically based, nutritionally optimal meal 365 days per year. We can do evidence based physical activities that counteract the physical deteriorations of age, such as fat deposition, bone density loss, and muscle loss.
Menopause is no longer a thing to be dreaded. Menopause is life cycle phase like adolescence and pregnancy, and people deserve support during such times. As an Ob/Gyn, I rely on a constantly improving body of data and recommendations about the care of menopausal women. They involve increased surveillance in the form of mammograms, bloodwork, bone scans, colonoscopy and the like. We evaluate and make recommendations about enhanced nutrition, specialized supplements, tailored fitness training, and yes, medications including hormones, all in the service of optimal health.
Older women should take note, and see that they are up to date on their health care. Younger women should picture themselves how they would like to be in menopause.
Stay tuned as we devote a few Medical Mondays to menopause, an increasingly important topic.