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Reproductive years linked to ageing: study

AAP logoAAP 28/07/2016 By Sarah Wiedersehn

Women who start menstruating later and go through menopause after the age of 50 have a better chance of living to 90, according to new research.

A US study, published in journal Menopause, has found an association between reproductive years and ageing.

Those with more than 40 reproductive years enjoyed increased odds of living into a tenth decade, suggest scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

"Our study found that women who started menstruation at age 12 or older, experienced menopause, either naturally or surgically, at age 50 or older and had more than 40 years reproductive years had increased odds of living to 90-years-old," said lead author Aladdin Shadyab.

The longitudinal study followed 16,000 women from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds for 21 years.

More than half, 55 per cent, survived to age 90.

It was found women who started menstruation at a later age were less likely to have certain health issues, like coronary heart disease.

They were also less likely to be smokers or have a history of diabetes, the scientists noted.

"Factors, such as smoking, can damage the cardiovascular system and ovaries, which can result in earlier menopause. Women with later menopause and a longer reproductive lifespan may have decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases," said Dr Shadyab, whose grandfather lived to 102.

He said more studies are needed to examine how lifestyle, genetics and environmental factors may explain the link between reproductive lifespan and longevity.

"This study is just the beginning of looking at factors that can predict a woman's likelihood of surviving to advanced age," he said.

A separate study, published in the same journal, this week revealed that women who begin menopause before age 46 or after 55 have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The average age of menopause, or a woman's final menstrual period, is 51.

After menopause, levels of the hormone oestrogen decline leading to a range of symptoms including hot flushes and a reduced sex drive.

Lower levels of oestrogen have previously been linked to increased body fat and appetite, decreased metabolism and high blood-sugar levels.

Dr Erin LeBlanc from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, says their study, of more than 124,000 women, suggests the optimal window for menopause and diabetes risk is between the ages of 46 and 55.

Women who start menopause before or after that window should be especially vigilant about reducing obesity, eating a healthy diet and exercising, she said.

"These lifestyle changes will help to reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes."

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