Menopause

Discover how your DNA can impact when and how you experience menopause.

8 minute read

What is the menopause?

Menopause refers to the process by which a person stops menstruating and stops being able to get pregnant. It is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. Menopause is sometimes accompanied by other symptoms. These can include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, reduced sex drive and potentially issues with memory or concentration . These symptoms are only temporary, but the length of time they occur for varies from person to person.

The age at which menopause occurs also varies. Whether or not a person is a smoker, has gone through chemotherapy, or has undergone ovarian surgery can significantly impact age at menopause .

However, it is thought the degree to which this is inherited is around 50%, and so it is likely there are genetic factors also playing a large role . In fact, a number of genes have been identified that appear to play a role in not only when an individual goes through menopause, but also how they might experience it.

When will I begin menopause?

When menopause will occur is difficult to precisely predict, as environmental factors will always play a role in when this happens. If a woman is a smoker, she is likely to reach menopause earlier. In addition, if a woman has undergone chemotherapy, she is likely to experience temporary menopause during the chemotherapy and also likely to reach permanent menopause a year or two earlier than she would have otherwise.

Particular genes are also known to contribute to the age one might reach menopause. Studies have shown that the genetic variant rs16991615 in the MCM8 gene can affect age at menopause. MCM8 carries the instructions for a protein which is involved in DNA replication and likely in the production of female egg cells. Those with an A variant - on average - reach menopause about 11 months later than those without .

rs16991615

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Similarly, the TMEM150B gene is known to provide instructions for a protein which is involved in how long certain cells can survive. Interestingly, studies have shown that those with a ‘T’ variant at rs4806660 are more likely to experience menopause later on in life than those without.

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Will I have hot flashes?

Hot flashes are quite common in those going through menopause. They are caused by hormonal changes and are usually harmless. They usually occur without warning, but they can be triggered by things such as spicy food, caffeine, alcohol, smoking, or even particular medicines. Particular genes have been shown to affect whether or not a menopausal woman will experience hot flashes.

Research has recently established that the genetic variant rs74589515 of the TACR3 gene is associated with hot flashes. The TACR3 helps to regulate the production of a molecule called Neurokinin B, this molecule is thought to - amongst other things - induce hot flashes . Those with a ‘G’ variant are more likely to experience hot flashes.

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Summary

While for some the menopause may be a turbulent experience, it’s important to remember that it's mostly temporary. It’s also worth stressing that your genes alone will not dictate the experience you have. Only 50% of menopausal experience is thought to be affected by genetics. Additionally, while some genetic variants indicate that a person is more likely to experience hot flashes during menopause, it’s important to keep in mind that 60-80% of people going through the menopause are likely to experience them regardless of their genes.

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