Underweight Women Have Higher Risk of Early Menopause

Females who are underweight in their teenage years or mid 30s are more at risk of experiencing early menopause than lean or normal weight women, warns a new study by epidemiologists at the University of Massachusetts, the US.

The study is based on data analysis of 78,759 pre-menopausal women aged 25 to 42 who participated in the US Nurses’ Health Study II in 1989.

The data analysis was conducted by Dr. Kathleen Szegda, who at the time of the study was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, in collaboration with senior author Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson of the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

Szegda and Bertone-Johnson followed the study women until 2011 and the results showed that 2,804 women reported early natural menopause, that is occurring before age 45.

Specifically, the researcher duo found that women who were underweight at any age, having a BMI of less than 18.5 kg/m2, had a 30 percent increased risk of early menopause compared with their lean or normal weight counterparts with a BMI between 18.5-22.4 kg/m2.

The findings showed, women who were underweight at 18 with a BMI of less than 17.5 kg/m2 had a considerable, 50 percent, higher risk of an early menopause, while those with BMI of less than 18.5 kg/m2 at the age of 35 had a whopping 59 percent increased risk.

Further investigation showed that underweight women who reported “severe weight cycling,” losing 20 pounds (9 Kg) or more three times or more during 18 to 30 years, had a 2.4-fold greater risk of early menopause.

Szegda says: “Our findings suggest that women who are underweight in early or mid-adulthood may be at increased risk for early menopause.”

She adds, “Up to 10 percent of women experience early menopause and it is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions such as cognitive decline, osteoporosis and premature death, so these findings have important implications for women and their doctors. Underweight women may want to consider discussing the potential implications of these findings with their doctors.”

“Causes of early menopause are not clearly understood. Our findings suggest that being underweight may have an impact on the timing of menopause. More research is needed to understand how it increases the risk of early menopause,” she concludes.

The research is published in Human Reproduction, the monthly journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.