What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the period before a woman’s menstrual cycle ceases for 12 consecutive months.
The date when the menstrual cycle has ceased for a full 12 consecutive months is called menopause. The period of time after that date is called postmenopause.
How Perimenopause Affects the Female Body
Figuring out when perimenopause is over can be very confusing. Many women don’t realize that perimenopause can last for months and sometimes years as the body works to shut down its reproductive functions and transition their energy to other functions.
During this time, the major reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are fluctuating, sometimes to uncomfortable extremes. This can bring forth all kinds of health symptoms from insomnia to irritability, dry skin to hot flashes.
Estrogen and progesterone help the female body stay young by keeping tissues hydrated, moods stabilized and immune system strong. With less estrogen and progesterone circulating in the body, tissues dry out, body temperature spikes, sleep cycles get disrupted and the immune system begins to struggle to cope with all the simultaneous changes.
Establishing the Link to Premature Aging
You might be wondering how researchers are able to discern when the aging process is beginning to speed up. Other than looking for wrinkles, how is this possible?
The data required to identify the pace of aging in any human being is found in the body’s cells. Researchers have found a way to tell the age of a cell by looking at a particular biomarker called methylation, which is contained in human DNA.
Scientists are now calling this biomarker the “epigenetic clock” because it can be used to compare women who go through perimenopause at different ages to see which one ages first.
In a recent research project that studied 3,100 female adults in postmenopause, the participants’ epigenetic clocks showed that women who entered the process earlier were biologically older than their later-onset peers by approximately 6%.
In layman’s terms, this means that the women in the study who entered postmenopause earlier in life were up to a year older, biologically speaking, than women who entered postmenopause later in life.
This biological impact was felt among research participants who experienced natural early postmenopause and participants who had surgical removal of their ovaries and entered postmenopause artificially.
What About Hormone Replacement Therapy?
The researchers were also interested in learning how HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, might affect the biological age of a woman’s cells in postmenopause. What they found makes sense given the function and purpose of HRT.
Women who elected to undergo HRT to moderate the symptoms of perimenopause and postmenopause were biologically younger than their same-age peers who did not take HRT.
Researchers announced that future studies may help to highlight what type of HRT or other therapies could have the greatest impact to delay biological aging during peri- and postmenopause.
How Does Early Perimenopause Age You Faster?
Going through perimenopause at an earlier age deprives the body of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that play significant roles in cellular and tissue health as well as immune system function.
However, another important and less well-known link between early onset perimenopause and early onset aging is disruption of sleep cycles. Women who are going through the perimenopausal process often report disrupted sleep and insomnia.
Medical science has known for some time that getting adequate amount and quality of nightly sleep has a restorative impact on the body. The disruption of sleep that often occurs during perimenopause due to night sweats and other factors can prevent the body from doing necessary repairs.
In another research study with 5,000 adult female participants, researchers were able to demonstrate that women with more sleep disruption were biologically older than their same-age peers who had good quality and quantity of sleep.
More research is now being planned to delve deeper into the link between early onset perimenopause and early onset aging.