Menopause is a normal and natural part of aging in the
female. Every woman will reach menopause in her lifetime
with the average age of natural menopause being 51.
However, age by itself is a poor predictor of menopause and a woman may reach menopause between the ages of 40 and 58. Approximately 6,000 women enter menopause every day (over 2 million per year) in the United States with over 45 million menopausal women total. That number is estimated to rise to over 50 million by the year 2020.
Menopause is not an instantaneous event but rather a series of hormonal changes that occurs over several years until the permanent cessation of ovulation and menstruation. Prior to this cessation there is a gradual change in a woman’s hormonal balance that is marked by an irregularity and reduction of estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. This is an extremely complex process with many interrelated hormonal changes and many variations.
Lets examine, for example, an analogy to the hormonal shifts in menopause. Think of normal healthy female function as the onset of spring. Think of the sun as your brain, its heat as the signal of FSH and LH, and the seeds as the ovaries, with the flowers representing estrogen and progesterone.
The sun releases heat as a signal for the earth to warm. This warming allows flowers to blossom.
Once all the flowers have blossomed and the optimum temperature is reached, the signal stops,
the flowers perform their intended role and then wither as the temperature drops to wait for the
next cycle of warming.
Now imagine if the seeds would not respond to the heat – the heat would just build and build but there would never be any flowers. This is similar to the transition of menopause.
In young, healthy women, the brain uses FSH and LH to signal the ovaries precisely when to make the needed amounts of estrogen and then progesterone in a cyclical fashion. When LH rises to a peak point, ovulation occurs. If there is no conception then menstruation occurs, the hormone levels reset and the cycle begins again.
As women age, so do the ovaries and their ability to respond to the brain’s signals as well as their ability to make estrogen and progesterone. In response to the irregularity and decline of hormones with age, the brain releases more FSH and LH in an attempt to create more estrogen and progesterone. Since the ovaries and other control centers in the brain cannot respond properly to this increase, the levels of estrogen and progesterone continue to fall and FSH and LH continue to rise until the hormone levels can no longer reset and ovulation and menstruation ceases.