WOMEN / INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
Premature menopause risks rising: study
A pan-India survey conducted recently by the Bangalore-based Institute for
Social and Economic Change (ISEC) has brought an alarming new phenomenon of
premature menopause amongst Indian women to light.
08 March 2007 -
New Delhi, (WFS) - Indian women invariably feature at the
bottom of global health and wellness surveys. But that's not all. A recent
survey now shows that they are at a phenomenally high risk of suffering from
'premature menopause' with many experiencing this biological transition even
before they've hit the third decade of their lives!
Changing dynamics in society is leading to increased pressures which, coupled with the lack of proper nutrition and education about health play havoc with female hormones, resulting in a skewed menstrual pattern.
-- Dr Vidhi Chowdhury, Spring Meadows Hospital, New Delhi
Making menopause easier
When all joy leaks out
A pan-India survey, conducted recently by the Bangalore-based Institute for
Social and Economic Change (ISEC), highlights the alarming new phenomenon of
premature menopause amongst Indian women. This is increasingly becoming a source
of consternation amongst the medical community.
The data for the study - based on the 1998-99 National Family Health Survey -
drew samples from 100,000 women in the age band of 15-50 years, across 26
states. The study revealed that Indian women fare abysmally with regard to their
menopausal health. While the percentage of young menopausal women was the
highest in Andhra Pradesh at 31.4 per cent, Bihar (21.7 per cent) and Karnataka
(20.2 per cent) were no better. Kerala (11.6 per cent) was a tad better while
West Bengal (12.8 per cent) and Rajasthan (13.1 per cent) were just a rung
lower. Overall, the percentage of women hit by premature menopause is marginally
lower in urban areas (16.1 per cent) as against rural (18.3 per cent).
According to T S Syamala of ISEC, who conducted the pan-India research, the
proportion of premature menopausal Indian women plummets remarkably with a
corresponding increase in education. A higher number of illiterate women
experience premature menopause as against those who are educated. Among the
illiterate women, a substantive 20 per cent suffers from premature menopause as
against 11.1 per cent of women who hold at least a graduate degree. All of this
establishes the fact that women from the lower economic strata are more vulnerable
to premature menopause than their more privileged counterparts.
The findings of the ISEC survey, which were tabled in the Parliament recently,
also highlight that on an average nearly four per cent of Indian women are
already menopausal between the ages of 29-34 years, one of the lowest thresholds
for menopause in the world. The natural age for menopausal onset is between 45
to 55 years with a mean age of 51 years, worldwide. Interestingly, women who
marry and have children late have less reason to worry as they experience a
delayed onset of menopause.
Apart from being an important socio-economic pointer, doctors feel the survey
has confirmed their worst fears - that women's health is simply not a priority
in our country. "The changing dynamics of the Indian family, the increased
stress upon women to be financially independent and the whittling down of the
familial support structure have all put tremendous physical, emotional and
mental strain on our women," observes Dr Vidhi Chowdhury, obstetrician and
gynaecologist, Spring Meadows Hospital, New Delhi. "These pressures, coupled
with the lack of proper nutrition and education about health play havoc with
female hormones, resulting in a skewed menstrual pattern."
Interestingly, women who marry and have children late have less reason to worry as they experience a delayed onset of menopause.
But what exactly is a 'skewed' menstrual pattern and how does it impact a
woman's mental and physical health? "Menopause," elaborates Chowdhury, "is the
strongest biological transitory phase in a woman's life accompanied by volatile
physical changes. The ovaries stop producing eggs, menstrual activity ceases and
the body decreases the production of the female hormones (estrogen and
progesterone) which play a catalytic role in conditioning the body for uniquely
female functions such as pregnancy and child-bearing."
By stimulating skeletal growth, estrogen and progesterone help maintain healthy
bones, protect the heart and veins by upping the body's 'good cholesterol' (HDL
or high-density lipoprotein) and lowering 'bad cholesterol' (LDL or low-density
lipoprotein). But with the onset of menopause, and the subsequent dip in the
levels of these hormones, a woman's overall health, including her libido, gets
impacted. The plummeting estrogen levels trigger increased blood flow to the
face, neck, chest and back thereby resulting in the famed 'hot flushes'.
Mood swings, decreased libido and vaginal dryness are also caused by this hormone
dip. "The thinning of the vaginal wall tissues leads to vaginal dryness," adds
Chowdhury. "In some cases, many physiological changes during menopause may go
undetected. For instance, osteoporosis (loss of calcium in bones causing bone
fragility) is often not diagnosed till a bone fracture actually occurs. So it is
advisable for menopausal women to be in regular touch with their doctors."
In fact, most doctors advocate that menopausal health demands a well-defined
holistic approach. "Menopause should not be misconstrued as a disease," exhorts
Dr Girish Vaishnav, Head, Department of Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital,
Noida. "After all, it is a naturally occurring biological phenomenon whose
transitory effects can be offset by proper medical and nutritional care."
Diet can, in fact, play a crucial role in combating the emotional, physical and
mental stress of menopausal and pre-menopausal years. A high-fibre, low fat and
low-carb diet incorporating herbs, minerals and vitamins in one's daily diet can
work wonders. Advises Dr Anupama Shastri, consultant dietician, Max Medicare,
"One should eliminate tea, coffee, alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and smoking
during this period. This automatically eliminates food cravings often
experienced by women during this period. Also, one ought to keep one's weight
under check as being overweight augments these symptoms. Including soya, Vitamin
E and herbal supplements in one's diet also helps."
The correct diet, according to dieticians, also helps eliminate quintessentially
menopausal symptoms like depression, irritability, dizziness, hair loss and
changes in body temperature, better known as hot and cold flushes. Sleep
disturbances, trouble falling asleep, or if awakened, going back to sleep can
also be minimised by the correct diet.
Focusing on lean proteins such as fish and chicken is a good idea, recommends
Shastri. "A menopausal nutrition plan usually includes lots of vegetables,
fruits, fibre and whole grains," he says. Eating five small meals per day rather
than three huge ones is recommended as this helps keep blood sugar levels from
fluctuating. Women's Feature Service