Researchers at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that the timeless tradition of grandmothering, which is practiced in many cultures globally, may help some women decrease the occurrence of hot flashes and night sweats, two of the most common menopausal symptoms.
The research team, two clinicians and a bio-anthropologist, examined how forming close relationships can help middle-aged women navigate this inevitable physical, mental, and emotional change. The clinicians focused on finding therapeutic benefits that may help patients better manage and deal with the unpredictable nature of menopause, while the bio-anthropologist predicted an evolutionary link or purpose between grandmothering and the reduction in frequency and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats.
Focusing on the relationship between young children and middle-aged women, the study found that women experiencing rapid menopause — due to the surgical removal of their ovaries — had fewer hot flashes and nights sweats when they shared their homes with young children.
The study, which was published in Menopause: the Journal of the North American Menopause Society, involved 117 women; 69 were either menopausal or postmenopausal at the time of their surgery, of which 29 were living with at least one child. Additionally, 48 women were premenopausal, of which 28 had at least one child at home. Researches monitored hot flashes and night sweats prior to the surgery, and then two, six, and 12 months after the surgery.
The findings were intriguing, to say the least. In fact, women who were already menopausal when the study began and also lived with young children actually displayed more symptoms of hot flashes. However, the women who underwent surgery which caused rapid menopause showed a significant reduction in symptoms.
The biological process of menopause, when menstruation completely stops as a result of a woman’s ovaries no longer producing eggs, varies drastically from woman to woman. Some women have few to no symptoms whatsoever, while some experience crippling symptoms. Typically, women experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age being 51.
A number of studies have been conducted on menopause and menopause symptom without coming to a true consensus, leaving many women faced with a variety of questionable treatments and supplements, many of which are not approved by the FDA or physicians. However, this most recent study is the first to involve social interaction and its impact on menopause symptoms, though only relationships with young children were considered.
Negative social stigmas and attitudes towards menopause have begun changing, as Eastern medicinal practices, such as those used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, have greatly influenced Western opinions. In many Eastern cultures, menopause is celebrated as a physical and spiritual milestone. A woman is seen as invaluably wise after having gone through menopause, and becomes an even greater asset to her family and community. In the youth-centered society of many Western cultures, menopause is seen and treated like a disease, and many women mourn the loss of their childbearing years. These negative attitudes are now waning, and many women now celebrate menopause as a landmark as well as a time to reflect on their life.
While research studies may produce conflicting findings, physicians and healthcare professionals agree that a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle can help to alleviate menopause symptoms and promote a sense of well being.