Menopause and the Seasons of the Year

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Depending on your geographic locality, a myriad of weather phenomena are present from coast to coast. Whether you are experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Frances, early snowstorms or soggy coastlines, we must prepare for the inevitable seasonal transition. From the warmth of the toasty Tucson, Arizona air, to frigid Fairbanks, Alaska, we are all experiencing the affects of a changing season. For many of us, days are getting shorter and the impending winter darkness looms. According to the 2005 Farmers’ Almanac, this winter could mean a time of capricious weather conditions. What does this mean for the menopausal?

In a recent study conducted by experts from Baranya County Teaching Hospital in Pecs, Hungary, the seasons might matter. Dr Janos Garai lead researcher of the investigation suggests there is a definitive link to the onset of menopausal symptoms and the seasons. The study was based on a survey that questioned 102 women on recalling the exact month of menopausal onset (discontinuation of their periods). 72 women remembered the exact month that their menopausal periods stopped, while 30 could recall only the season*. The study also considered various diet and exercise questions included in the questionnaire, but the seasons appeared to be the most influential cause leading to menopause. The results revealed that spring and autumn equinoxes are evidently related to the timing of menopause.

Dr Janos Garai said, “The seasonality we found seems to support the influence of environmental factors on female human reproductive functions even when they are declining.”

“Seasonal variations of reproductive functions in wild animals are well known, and similar, but not so definite, seasonal trends have been described for humans. The menopause is a complex set of symptoms that we know is determined partly by external and partly by internal influences, but there are only scarce data about the exact nature of environmental and/or lifestyle determinants. So we wanted to find out more in the hope that this might help in the future in implementing innovative approaches to treating problems in the menopause,” he said.

What causes these seasonal patterns? Researchers claim more studies need to be conducted, but some experts claim melatonin (a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland) could be involved. Melatonin could influence ovarian steroid hormone production. Dr. Garai says: “It is plausible that this process [menopause] is not just due to the ovaries no longer being able to produce developing egg follicles that provide an adequate hormone supply. Rather, it can be perceived as the ovaries – governed by several internal and external factors affected by climatic conditions such as length of day, temperature and humidity.”

While we all know that summertime brings an increase in the number of hot flashes we have, Dr. Garai thinks seasons might have more subtle affects on menopausal symptoms. In the meantime, how can we control our menopausal bodies during seasonal changes? We need to remember the basics of maintaining healthy lifestyles with proper nutrition and exercise. With a shift in our weather patterns and temperatures, we need to shift our lifestyles to more readily acclimate ourselves. For example, when the cooler weather arrives, we need to maintain our exercise routine, indoors or outdoors and keeping a variety of workout options to keep fit and challenge ourselves. The colder it gets, the less active most of us become (or vice versa for some). Therefore, we need to remember that we will not be burning as much energy as before. Obviously, avoid fatty foods and increasing alcohol intake.

Our bodies can go through dramatic changes during the seasonal transitions, aside from physical stresses. The “winter blahs” and “cabin fever” can greatly affect your mental state. Avoid these mind-sets by becoming more active. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common form of depression that is related to the seasons. The symptoms include depression, lack of energy, decreased interest in work or significant activities, increased appetite, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, increased sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, social withdrawal, afternoon slumps, slow, sluggish and lethargic movement. If you experience a few of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor.

The shift in season does not have to be a difficult, arduous task for our bodies. It can be a time to enjoy and celebrate life! If you are a brave Floridian, be joyful about the adjournment of hurricane season. If you are a Kansan, celebrate the termination of summer tornadoes! Enjoy those exquisite, colorful leaves in the northeast! In Texas, be pleased you no longer have to fight against your hot flashes in the heat.

*The results for the monthly distribution of the first missed bleeding in the peri-menopause were: January (6); February (7); March (9); April (9); May (8); June (8); July (4); August (1); September (5); October (7); November (5); December (3). The seasonal distribution, based on women who couldn’t remember the month when their menstrual periods ceased, was: Spring (15); Summer (4); Autumn (6); Winter (5).

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Garai’s study…Garai Janos, Vilagi Szabolcs, Repasy Istvan, Koppan Miklos, Bodis Jozsef, 2004, “Short communication: seasonal onset of menopause?”. Human Reproduction, July 2004 v19 i7 p1666(2).