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Early Menopause and Type 2 Diabetes: The Connection

An Australian study published in Human Reproduction has found that women who experience premature menopause have a three-fold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in their 60s. Early menopause means going through menopause at age 40 or younger. 

The researchers analyzed 5,000 women between 45 and 50 over the years of 1996 to 2016. In this study, 71 percent of women with early menopause went on to suffer multiple chronic conditions by age 60, while 55 percent of those who began menopause at 50 or 51 suffered multiple conditions.

The reasons for the link could be that lack of estrogen speeds up the aging process, or possibly that there was already a genetic factor that caused premature menopause that is also linked to chronic conditions. 

The researchers recommend that those who experience early menopause be screened for other risk factors. 

Another study with similar findings

Another recent study of 83,799 French women presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting  showed that early onset of period (menarche) and early menopause increase type 2 risk by 33 percent. The use of birth control pills was also associated with higher type 2 risk. In the same study, women who breastfed were found to have a 10 percent reduced risk of type 2. 


What is premature menopause?

The average age that menopause occurs is 51. Before menopause, women will experience a period called perimenopause in which periods will begin to get lighter and other changes will occur. 

Early menopause happens when the ovaries slow down and stop producing eggs before age 45, leading to lower levels of estrogen in the body. A woman truly hits menopause when she hasn’t had periods for one year. 

Causes of early menopause

Researchers are not clear on the the cause, but early onset of menopause could be due to several factors:

  1. Genetics. It could run in your family to start menopause early. 
  2. Lifestyle. Smoking, BMI and other health factors such as a vegetarian diet or lack of exposure to sun could contribute.
  3. Chromosome abnormalities such as Turner syndrome can affect hormones and ovaries.
  4. Autoimmune disease. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation which affects the ovaries. 
  5. Epilepsy. Women who suffer from epilepsy are more likely to experience early menopause due to ovarian failure.  
  6. Surgery. Removal of the ovaries or hysterectomy will cause menopause to begin.
  7. Radiation, chemotherapy, or other medications for cancer can result in early menopause.
  8. Eating disorders such as anorexia can cause a temporary length of time with no periods as well as premature menopause.
  9. HIV and AIDS can cause quicker aging of the ovaries.
  10. Thyroid problems. Since the thyroid is closely linked to hormone regulation, it can affect the onset of menopause. 

Early menopause symptoms

You will notice menopause approaching if you experience either shorter, lighter periods or heavier, longer periods. Other changes you might notice are changes in sexual desire, mood swings, hot flashes, and trouble sleeping. 

Key takeaways

In addition to type 2 diabetes, early menopause and the resulting loss of estrogen can increase the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, and dementia

Talk to your doctor about whether hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or other treatments are needed for early menopause. As these and other studies suggest, there is a strong link between early menopause and type 2 diabetes. Be sure to talk with your doctor about other chronic illnesses you might be at risk for. Search for a North American Menopause Society certified practitioner to make sure you get the best care.