Beating the biological clock is tough. Women undergo fertility treatments, secretly wondering if their failure to naturally produce offspring is related to menopause. A new study takes the guesswork out of the equation. To what end?
On June 28th, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology issued a press release(1) that could take the threat out of the much-famed biological clock. Dr. Fahimeh Ramezani Tehrani revealed that since 1998 she has been engaged in menopause research involving 266 women, aged 20 to 49.
The goal of the research was the measurement of the anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) that controls ovarian processes. Variations in the hormone were integrated into a statistical model that would then serve to forecast the likely age at which the patient would enter menopause.
During the still ongoing trial, some 63 women entered menopause and the averaged margin of error – at this point – is only about four months. That being said, there is a maximum margin of error of three to four years.
Beating the Biological Clock at its Own Game
The work of Dr. Ramezani Tehrani is by no means the first foray into the accurate prediction of menopause. While it is the general consensus that early menopause takes place before age 45, the majority of women will not actually experience menopause symptoms until age 50 and beyond.
Understanding the connection between the AHM and the onset of menopause, physicians at the University Medical Center Utrecht(2) attempted to predict menopause in 2008. At that time, it appeared that the accurate measurement of the hormone in younger women led to difficulties.
Will Childbearing after 45 Years of Age Increase?
As the above referenced attempts of accurately determining menopause onset reveal, it may now be a possibility to take a much more measured approach to childbearing. After 45 years of age — when most women are either settled in tried long-term relationships, have achieved economic comfort or assembled a support system that would allow for the single raising of a child — this could mean a heads up early on whether they have the luxury of waiting as long to conceive or should speed up their planning by three to five years.
That being said, waiting for offspring until the latter half of life is not at bed of roses, even if it is biologically possible and hormonally probable. Risk factors of birth defects increase as maternal age advances. For example, the March of Dimes(3) reveals that a woman at the age of 35 has a one in 400 risk of birthing a child with Down syndrome. Ten years later, her risk increases to one in 30.
Yet even aside from the risk of childbearing after 45 years of age, there is also the question if knowing when menopause will occur would greatly impact the decision to have children in the first place. Societal expectations, peer pressure and the exercise of personal choice are still as likely to determine if — and when — a woman will have children as knowing when exactly she may expect to enter into menopause.
For example, the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook(4) shows that the average number of children born varies greatly by country. While in Niger it may sit at 7.68, in the United States it only stands at 2.06. There is little reason to assume an upset in these figures based on accurate fertility estimates.