Thanks to technology like like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), more and more people who want to get pregnant after the age of 30 are able to do so. Still, there is a severe lack of research on why exactly the ovaries tend to age much faster than the rest of the body — or at all. Now, researchers are looking into the link between fertility and aging and have found a correlation between people who experiences menopause later in life and overall general health and longevity.
"When the ovaries stop working due to menopause, they stop making a cocktail of hormones important for general health," Jennifer Garrison, an assistant professor at California's Buck Institute for Research on Aging, told CNN. "Even in healthy women, it dramatically increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, cognitive decline, insomnia, osteoporosis, weight gain, arthritis -- those are medically established facts."
"Studies show women who have later menopause tend to live longer and have an enhanced ability to repair their DNA," Garrison added. "But women with natural menopause before the age of 40 are twice as likely to die (early) compared with women going through natural menopause between the ages 50 to 54."
According to the North American Menopause Society, the average age of natural menopause is 51. Garrison and other researchers believe that by finding ways to extend fertility for people with ovaries into their 50s, 60s, and 70s could lead to longer, healthier lives.
The main aim of this research isn’t to necessarily help people who qualify for AARP to get pregnant naturally, however. "That would be a completely irresponsible goal and ultimately a shortsighted one,” explained Dr. Kara Goldman, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine told CNN.
“We're thinking about the bigger picture: The best way to prevent the health impact of menopause is to prolong the ovaries' natural functioning," Goldman said.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much funding in this area in the past. This is something researchers like Garrison and Goldman intend to change. Garrison launched the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality to really take a look into the female reproductive cycle at all stages of life.
And it turns out cracking this code could also give other family members insight into their future health.
"Why does a woman's reproductive span correlate with her overall life span? Even brothers of women who go through menopause later tend to live longer," Garrison noted. "There's a genetic component there that's clearly very important, and we don't understand it at all."
At the end of the day, Garrison isn’t hoping to put an end to menopause altogether. “Understanding what causes it and figuring out interventions that would extend it a little bit by one year, two years, five years, 10 years — that is very achievable."