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Why Are Young Menstruators Reaching Menopause Early?

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

While open conversations surrounding menstruation have been growing, there several aspects of menstruation that have still been left behind. Young girls find out about menstruation usually around the time of their menarche (first period). They are taught about how to cover up and behave during the time but they are never told that menstruation is not actually a lifelong thing! 

Commonly starting at around 45-50 years of age, the end of a woman’s menstrual period is known as menopause. The age of menopause differs from woman to woman but the mean age is around 51 years. Not having significant conversations about menopause has resulted in women being caught off guard when they start to see the symptoms. While menopause can bring about a whole host of problems, in the fast-paced world we live in today, women have been known to experience symptoms of menopause at a much earlier age.

While it did not happen overnight, my life came tumbling almost instantly”, writes the author of this article who reached menopause at a very early age of just twenty-nine. The author describes the experience as filled with anxiety, mood swings and depression. She experienced hot flashes and racing heartbeats regularly which made life extremely difficult for her.

Her medication resulted in weight gain and breast pain. “What I felt more was the burden of being barren,” she writes describing the societal pressures of being a mother. Lack of knowledge surrounding premature menopause resulted in the author’s symptoms going unnoticed for a long time.

Woman holding her stomach in pain
Representational Image.

What is Premature Menopause?

When a menstruator undergoes irregular/absent menstrual cycles before their 40s, it is known as premature menopause. One of the main causes of which is Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) – A condition in which the ovaries do not function properly. According to the American Pregnancy Association, approximately 1 in 1000 women between the ages of 15-29 and 1 in 100 women between 30-39 experience POF.

In India, data from NFHS-3 (National Family and Health Survey) shows that by age 40-41, 19% of women have already reached menopause. By age 48-49, ⅔ of all women surveyed are in menopause. Among all states, Andhra Pradesh has the highest reported level of menopause. The data also suggests that menopause occurs earlier in rural areas as compared to urban areas. 

NFHS-4 was released in 2017 but contained little to no data on menopause. This clearly shows the lack of importance given to menopause.

Common Causes And Symptoms

According to a research paper published by the Journal of Mid-Life Health:

  • Smoking has an antiestrogenic effect which can possibly accelerate menopause by 1.5-2 years. 
  • Low level of sun exposure can result in premature menopause. 
  • Severe weight loss and excessive exercise have an impact on reducing estrogen levels while malnutrition or restricted calorie intake during childhood reduces reproductive lifespan. 
  • Other causes can be thyroid diseases, mumps, hyperparathyroidism and Addison’s disease. 
  • Survivors of cancer are also at high risk of premature menopause as radiation and chemotherapy can impact oestrogen levels in the body.

The symptoms of POF are quite similar to that experienced during natural menopause. The most obvious symptom is irregular/absent periods. A woman may not get her natural period or not get a period after she stops using the birth control pill. Some women experience shorter cycles or spotting before or after periods, followed by gradually decreasing flow and finally no flow,” says Gynecologist, Dr Suman Bijlani in an interview.

Hot flashes, crying spells, loss of interest in sex, sleeplessness, mood swings and irritability are all common symptoms that accompany menopause.

period pain/ menopause
Representational image.

Changing Lifestyle

The best way to prevent early menopause is to be educated about the causes and ensure that you take proper care of your health and body. “The cause of POF goes undetermined in the majority of the cases, but changing food habits, work culture with increased stress are some of the reasons,” says Dr Shobha Gupta, Medical Director at Mother’s Lap IVF Centre, in an interview with The Hindu.

Our way of life has changed drastically in the last 200 years. Environmental changes like pollution, increased globalisation which forces the body to acclimate to different climatic conditions and fast-paced stressful lives have all contributed to the growing risk of early menopause. While genetics may play a small role in determining when a woman reaches menopause, lifestyle choices like drinking and smoking also have an impact. 

The best way to avoid POF is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These infographics by the Indian Menopause Society provide important insight on how to maintain a healthy menopause diet. The research article mentioned previously calls for menopausal clinics and health awareness campaigns especially in countries like India where the age of menopause is 2-3 years earlier than other developed nations. It is necessary to bring about education and awareness. A holistic syllabus must be developed for sex education that covers reproduction from menarche to menopause. 

Menopause is an important part of a woman’s growth and journey but it comes at a heavy price. It takes a severe toll physically as well as mentally. It is important for us to hold open conversations not just about menarche but also about menopause so that women are more comfortable asking for support during such trying times.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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