How Grandchildren can help Relieve Menopause Symptoms

There may be a hidden reason why some women enjoy babysitting their grandchildren.

New research has found that women going through this form of rapid onset menopause may have less hot flashes and night sweats if they have young children at home.

Surgical removal of the ovaries often brings on such rapid menopause and with it, the usual symptoms.

In fact, the process of menopause can vary widely. Some women have nearly no troublesome symptoms, while other women experience severe ones.
A still smaller subset of women experience very severe effects, longer than would be expected.

Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

In this study from Indiana University researchers, 117 women took part. 69 were menopausal or postmenopausal at the time of their surgery, with 29 of them having at least one child at home; and 48 women were premenopausal, with 28 of them having at least one child at home.

Researchers measured hot flashes and night sweats just prior to the surgery and then followed up again two months, six months, and 12 months post-surgery.

“These are intriguing findings,” says Tierney Lorenz, Indiana University postdoctoral fellow. “For women who were menopausal when our study began, those with young children at home actually showed more symptoms of hot flashes.

But the women who underwent rapid menopause because of the surgical removal of their ovaries showed a dramatic reduction of symptoms.”

Up until now, studies on menopause have evinced little consensus, Lorenz says, leaving women with a wide range of treatments, such as supplements, hormonal treatments, and even hot yoga.

Social Interaction and Menopause Symptoms

The study is one of the first looking at social interaction and menopause symptoms to control for the age of the women and also for the type of relationship.

Only relationships with young children were considered.

The study stemmed from an interest in the evolutionary role of social structures, grandmothering to be specific, a tradition which crosses cultures. It also brings up many questions.

  • Is this tradition really necessary for the survival of the species?
  • Is there some direct benefit to the women?
  • Is it a coincidence that women often undergo the physiological change of menopause at an age when they might have young grandchildren on hand?

The findings cannot be applied to all women, mainly because menopause affects women so differently, Lorenz says. But they do point out the need to investigate the hormone oxytocin more carefully because of its possible role in the results.

Oxytocin Plays a Role

Oxytocin is linked to nurturing care and a wide range of effects across the body. These include interactions involved in regulating body temperature.

It also can affect sleeping patterns and mood, which can be troubled during menopause. Lorenz says the fact that the benefits involve only young children may also be significant.

“The fact the effects observed were limited to only women with children younger than 13 years suggests that parity was not sufficient to produce changes in flashes and points instead to the increased nurturance needs of young children,” the authors say. “Presence of young children at home may moderate development of hot flashes during the menopausal transition.”

Presence of young children at home may moderate development of hot flashes during the menopausal transition.
Lorenz, Tierney K. PhD; McGregor, Bonnie A. PhD; Vitzthum, Virginia J. PhD
Menopause: September 15, 2014 doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000334

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