It is important to distinguish between natural aging, which is unavoidable, and hormone deficiency due to menopause, that is a compromise natural selection made with humankind to ensure their survival. Simple aging is due to copy errors that accumulate in the DNA during cell replication. This is the cause of the aging process and occurs in all of us. It is what places a cap on our longevity at about 105 years.
Gina, pictured here with her baby Jaya, is the first ape found to have undergone a menopause. This biological process was originally thought to be exclusive to humans. This suggests humans are not as dissimilar from orangutans as first thought. The Daily Mail ©
Menopause developed for an entirely different reason that has nothing to do with longevity or aging. Menopause is much more fundamental because it was needed for our species very survival. Menopause evolved in our early hominid ancestors at least 14 millions of years ago based upon the discovery the orangutans experience menopause-like we do. That was the point where we last had a common ancestor. Gibbons are next at 20 million years but you get the picture. Menopause as we know it has been with us for millions of years and all our non-human primate buddies go through it too. This includes Gorillas, Baboons, and Chimps. So how did all of us end up with this really lousy deal? Why is it that women have to suffer the hormone deficiency that accompanies ovarian failure at an average age of 50 when she has another 30 years of life expectancy remaining? Studies show that the loss of these hormones promotes numerous chronic diseases including heart disease, dementia, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer to name a few of the major concerns. Why would Mother Nature do that to her innocent children? It makes no sense. Right these are the questions I struggled with for years until I finally realized that our Mother had to make a terrible choice, one that had a short-term benefit but with long-term consequences. These consequences are the medical problems mentioned above but they would not manifest until her children lived long enough to experience them. That time is now and here we are confronted with these consequences of the Great Compromise. The question is what is with what we know what is the best and safest way to manage the impact of hormone deficiency on postmenopausal women?
Ovarian failure resulting in infertility and hormone deficiency occurring exclusively among middle-aged female members of the species was found by natural selection to be superior to all other experimental conditions affecting species fertility. There are really only 3 possible models and I am certain all were experimented with by Nature among our very ancient hominid ancestors. In one neither gender would experience gonadal failure and therefore fertility would continue until death. In another, the male would experience gonadal failure at midlife. It is apparent that these two models failed because no primate or certainly human people evolved in these ways. This means they became extinct not because someone didn’t like them and killed them off but because that way of living was not survivable. The only method to survive within humans and all our primate cousins is when the female of the species undergoes gonadal failure at mid-life many years prior to the end of her life span. Menopause is often confused with aging but that is an error. It has nothing to do with aging but everything to do with survival of the species. I can speculate why this pattern was selected over the others but I will leave that to you. What is true is that natural selection chose this pattern and this is what we must understand and come to terms with as well as we can.
Menopause is something that occurs with age but I argue is not a consequence of aging. Rather it is an intelligent compromise that Nature recognized as a survival necessity for our ancient ancestors. Specifically, can you imagine what would happen if women in there 50s and beyond routinely had children? My goodness, the medical and social complications would be enormous.
Our situation today is the same as it was then. It would obviously be a calamity if women did not lose their fertility at midlife. Everyone would have her tubes tided. While we do not wish to reverse the loss of fertility due to menopause we absolutely do want to remedy to mandatory hormone deficiency state produced by gonadal failure. Today we can safely restore a healthy balanced hormonal environment for postmenopausal women that does not restore fertility or require the return of the menstrual cycle. Who could ask for more? The advantage is the intent of Natures compromise is honored but without women having to pay the terrible price.