Menopause, Sleeplessness Both Make Women Age Faster, Studies Show

Time to cue up a hot flash joke. Two studies out of UCLA have shown that menopause, and its partner in crime  the insomnia that comes with it  can make women age faster.

The dual findings, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Biological Psychiatry, suggest that early menopause and insomnia could increase women’s risk for aging-related diseases and earlier death.

The studies hope to answer the age-old question of “Does menopause cause you to age or is the fact you are aging the cause of menopause?” Steve Horvath, professor of human genetics and biostatistics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and a senior author on both studies says this: “It’s like the chicken or the egg: which came first? Our study is the first to demonstrate that menopause makes you age faster.”

Horvath and his team of researchers tracked methylation, a chemical biomarker linked to aging and analyzed DNA samples from more than 3,100 women. The researchers found that menopause speeds up cellular aging by an average of 6 percent. Said Horvath in a press release: “That doesn’t sound like much but it adds up over a woman’s lifespan.”

Take, for example, a woman who enters early menopause at age 42. Eight years later, he said, her body would be a full year older biologically compared to a 50-year-old woman who entered menopause naturally at age 50.

The younger a woman is when she enters menopause, the faster her blood ages, noted the release. It’s significant because a person’s blood may mirror what’s happening in other parts of the body, and this could have implications for death and disease risk, said the study’s author.

And if that wasn’t enough to mess up your day, here’s what the insomnia study found: Not getting enough sleep does more than just affect how you function the next day; it also can influence the rate at which your biological clock ticks. “In the women we studied, those reporting symptoms such as restless sleep, waking repeatedly at night, having difficulty falling asleep, and waking too early in the morning tended to be older biologically than women of similar chronological age who reported no symptoms,” said the study’s author.

“We can’t conclude definitively from our study that the insomnia leads to the increased epigenetic age, but these are powerful findings,” said the study, which recommended carrying out additional research to determine a cause-and-affect relationship between biological age and sleep disorders.

In the United States, 1.3 million women reach menopause annually. Although most of them transition without experiencing psychiatric problems, an estimated 20 percent experience depression at some point during menopause. Opinions vary on the wisdom of taking hormone replacement therapy to treat menopausal symptoms.

In the meantime, let’s all just crank up the fan. 

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