Women's Health

What you can do now

Why ovulation holds the key to women’s longevity

Every human on this planet came into the world as the result of the courage, endurance, and commitment of a woman’s spirit, and the wondrous faculties of her physical body ushering them into life. Women’s bodies are nothing short of miraculous - with some having the unique ability to foster new life through birth if they choose to do so. But at a certain point in her life, typically between the ages of 45 and 55, women start menopause, marking the end of reproductive years. 

Most people don’t realize that the age at which a woman goes through menopause is correlated with her overall lifespan. It’s a sad but true fact of life - as studies show evidence that the loss of hormones that accompany menopause greatly accelerate the aging process in a woman’s body. Put simply, a woman who goes through menopause later will tend to live longer. 

Why do women outlive fertility in the first place? Menopause is an unusual reproductive strategy that flies in the face of evolutionary theory. Humans are one of just a couple species in the animal kingdom that go through menopause. And while there are several theories, nobody knows exactly why women’s ovaries shut down the processes of menstruation and ovulation. 

Unfortunately, reproductive aging in women is perhaps the most important and simultaneously the most understudied field of medicine, despite the fact that studying ovarian health could unlock revolutionary and far-reaching discoveries about aging in other human tissues and how we might reverse or slow its progression in both women and men. 

But thanks to the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the Bia Echo Foundation, that is changing. They’re funding research and building the ecosystem to support discovery and innovation around reproductive longevity and accelerating the development of products and therapies to positively impact women’s lives, from cellular targets like egg mitochondria to ovarian inflammation. And by understanding why ovaries age prematurely, they hope that they’ll discover essential clues about how aging works in the rest of the body.

Solutions to Health and Fertility

While we wait for those critical scientific discoveries to come to fruition, some excellent solutions will soon be available to address health and fertility as a woman ages. Above all, it’s crucial to gather as much baseline data about your body and your unique cycle as possible to know what “normal” is, as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocates for using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. Many apps (MyFLO, Clue, Ovia, Tracker, and Glow, to name a few) can assist with measuring physiology throughout the four phases of menstruation. That way, if there are any issues — like an inability to conceive, fibroids, endometriosis, painful periods, or any other condition that interferes with your cycle or quality of life, healthcare specialists can help you make sense of the data you collect.

There’s also a lot to be said about making common-sense lifestyle choices. Ovarian aging can be accelerated by many factors, including environmental stressors, the food we eat or don’t eat, exercise, sleep, toxin load, medically induced agents like chemotherapy or radiation, and many other conditions. Quick fixes and magic elixirs may grab marketing dollars, but the truth is that making sound, intuitive lifestyle choices can dramatically affect every aspect of health and well-being, and this includes hormonal regulation and the menstrual experience.

Additionally, three solutions are on the horizon for hormonal health, sexual function, fertility, and well-being. While these treatments show great promise for improving the quality of life for women right now or very soon, more basic scientific research into female-specific areas of need must take place.

  1. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

    When a woman runs out of eggs and her ovaries stop functioning, that chemical conversation with the brain shuts down, leading to the adverse downstream effects of menopause. HRT is a way to replace some of those missing chemical signals that decline during perimenopause and vanish in menopause. It can reduce the overall health risks associated with menopause and ease the symptoms that dramatically impact a woman’s quality of life. However, HRT nuances require careful consideration of risks and benefits in consultation with an OB-GYN.

  2. Thermal and radiofrequency-based laser treatment

    Many physicians have found that laser therapies can be helpful to address symptoms of urinary incontinence, vaginal atrophy (inflammation of vaginal walls that may cause pain, usually after menopause), pain during intercourse, and lack of sexual satisfaction. Although lasers have been used safely by dermatologists, surgeons, and medspas for years, laser treatments have not yet been approved by the FDA specifically to treat symptoms related to female health and sexual function. However, there are studies supporting the efficacy of laser technology for these purposes, and it could be a key solution in the near and evolving future.

  3. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment: 

    When a blood sample is drawn from a patient’s arm and spun for several minutes (centrifuged), then separated to remove red blood cells, what is left is a concentrate of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). This plasma, rich in high concentrations of cytokines, growth factors, and other bioactive compounds, is then injected into the patient’s tissue, initiating angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels) and stimulating cell regeneration and repair. Preliminary work shows that PRP may be safe and effective in improving uterine lining thickness and treating vaginismus (painful spasmodic contractions), endometritis (inflammation), vaginal dryness, pelvic floor damage, and incontinence. More studies are needed before the FDA approves these treatments for these particular indications.

While there is certainly a unique complexity to a woman’s biochemistry and individuality in each experience of her cycle of life, the female body, no matter what age, size, shape, or color, is its own magnificent masterpiece. Because of this, if you are considering any of these treatments, it’s important to work with your team of doctors and healthcare specialists to determine the best possible solutions for you.