Stop all the clocks: Would you delay the menopause?
First we had the pill, then IVF and Botox followed. And now, there has been another groundbreaking medical development that could revolutionise the lives of women.
IVF specialists in Britain have devised a medical procedure that could allow women to delay the menopause by up to 20 years. The procedure, which costs between €7,600 and €12,000, is being offered to women up to the age of 40 through ProFam, a Birmingham-based company set up by Simon Fishel, President of the UK Care Fertility Group, in collaboration with other specialists.
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The process entails having a small piece of ovarian tissue removed and then cryogenically frozen; when women enter the menopause, the frozen tissue is thawed out and grafted back into the body to restore failing hormone levels. All going well, the procedure should restore declining sex hormones and effectively halt the menopause.
On a purely practical level, delaying the onset of the menopause would be hugely advantageous to women, not least when it was revealed in a recent survey that over half of respondents said the menopause negatively impacted their lives. Some women, like 69-year-old broadcaster Jenni Murray, are only too happy that menopause is out of the way.
"Knowing what I know now, having experienced the worst of it and come through the other side, I honestly wouldn't bother," she wrote in The Daily Telegraph about ProFam's latest offering. "But the symptoms of the perimenopause - the one to two years before your periods stop and you are menopausal - don't last forever. And then you're free. No more PMT, no more costly sanitary products and you are never, ever going to have to worry again about getting pregnant."
Yet for many women, perimenopause and menopause ushers in a host of symptoms they'd happily see the back of.
Loretta Dignam, founder and CEO of The Menopause Hub (themenopausehub.ie), notes: "I had UTIs, dry eyes, weight gain in perimenopause, and then when I hit the menopause, I had 20-30 hot flushes a day for two or three years, and three years of night sweats.
"I experienced pains in my ankles, bladder leakage, fatigue, headaches and a general loss of vitality and va-va-voom. In my experience, I'd rather have my periods back than what I went through in menopause."
Asked if her younger self might consider a treatment like this, Dignam adds: "If I'd known about it 10 or 20 years ago, I'd certainly have considered it, or at least investigated it further.
"I think it would help women feel vital for longer, which in general health terms, has to be a good thing," she adds. "We are living in an ageist society where older men are seen as wise, while older women are seen as past-it lunatics on the scrapheap."
It's certainly worth thinking about what a procedure that prolongs female virility and fertility could do for womankind. Ageing would be a kinder beast entirely. The much-maligned biological clock would also look very different. The cultural conceit of a middle-aged woman, flustered with hot flushes and emotionally enslaved by her 'hormones' (a catch-all term that only seems to apply to women) would disappear overnight.
Think of how the dating playing-field between men and women could be levelled out if women were viewed culturally as every bit as vital as men in middle age.
"We are not designed to live this long and now we're living in an oestrogen-deficient state for a third, if not half, of our lives," explains Dignam. "There are a lot of complications in that in terms of heart health, bone health and cognitive function (women who undertake the procedure may also benefit from the longer-lasting protective effects of hormones on the heart and bone density)."
Ultimately, Dignam notes that anything that gets women talking more openly about menopause and researching their various options can only be a step in the right direction.
"I think women have a bigger challenge understanding exactly what the menopause entails," she reasons. "I certainly didn't understand what perimenopause was before I got there."
As to what advice Dignam offers to women considering this groundbreaking experience: "It's very early days, and right now, it's a pioneering procedure, so obviously find out more about the finer details and educate yourself on your various options."