SAN DIEGO — Women who start menstruation and experience menopause later in life may have an increased chance of living into their 90s, according to a study released Wednesday by researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
The study, published in the online version of the journal Menopause, is the first to evaluate the association of reproductive factors with survival to a specific advanced age.
“Achieving longevity is an overarching public health goal with so many of us asking `how do I live longer?’” said Aladdin Shadyab, a posdoctoral fellow in the UCSD Department of Family Medicine and Public Health.
“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 reproductive years had increased odds of living to 90 years old,” Shadyab said.
The study followed roughly 16,000 postmenopausal, racially and ethnically diverse women from the Women’s Health Initiative for 21 years, and 55 percent survived to age 90.
“Our team found that women who started menstruation at a later age were less likely to have certain health issues, like coronary heart disease, and those who experienced menopause later in life were more likely to be in excellent health overall, which may be a possible explanation for our findings,” said Shadyab, the study’s lead author.
Women who started menstruation and experienced menopause at a later age were also less likely to be smokers or have a history of diabetes.
“Factors such as smoking can damage the cardiovascular system and ovaries, which can result in earlier menopause,” he said. “Women with later menopause and a longer reproductive lifespan may have decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases.”
Shadyab, whose grandfather lived to 102 and sparked his passion for studying aging, 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. “Using my grandfather as inspiration, I am excited to take these results and continue to contribute to the science behind longevity.”
Shadyab said the number of women living to age 90 in the United States has increased significantly in the past century. Currently estimated at 1.3 million, the demographic is expected to quadruple by 2050.
Researchers at San Diego State University, The North American Menopause Society, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine took part in the study. Funding was provided, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.