Understanding the Potential Role of Stem Cells in Premature Menopause Treatment
Menopause is a natural process – it marks the end of a woman’s fertile, child-bearing years. Thankfully, for most women, this change does not come until around the age of 51. Of course, it does not occur at the same age for all women. Some women go through menopause during their 40s – this is called early menopause. For some women, it can happen even earlier. Whether this is natural, or is induced, it is called premature menopause.
What Is Premature Menopause?
According to a study published in the journal Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research,
“premature menopause affects 1% of women under the age of 40 years. The women are at risk of premature death, neurological diseases, psychosexual dysfunction, mood disorders, osteoporosis, ischemic heart disease and infertility…Premature menopause is defined as premature ovarian failure before the age of 40 years. It is marked by amenorrhea, increased gonadotrophin levels, and estrogen deficiency.”
What Causes Premature Menopause?
Premature menopause may occur naturally, or it can be induced through artificial means. Inducement can occur through medical treatments, taking certain medications, or through surgery to name just a few ways.
For many women, premature menopause is natural – it’s linked to their genetics, and can be seen in their family history. Any woman with a family history of premature menopause are much more likely to experience it themselves.
Interestingly, there are lifestyle factors that may also affect when your body goes through menopause. For instance, smoking is known to increase your risk for experiencing premature menopause. Note that smoking also increases your menopausal symptoms significantly, and means that you have a greater risk of an early death after menopause than women who do not smoke.
Other potential causes of premature menopause include chemotherapy for cancer, removal of one or both ovaries, and full hysterectomy. Thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis are both linked to premature menopause, as are HIV and AIDS. Chronic fatigue syndrome, is another potential cause, as are missing chromosomes within your DNA.
What Are the Symptoms of Premature Menopause?
The most common symptoms experienced are those of menopause – hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, and the like. Women may also experience irregular periods, changes in flow during their periods, and missed periods. Vaginal dryness, dry skin, decreased sex drive, bladder irritability and loss of control, and sleeplessness are also frequently reported. Some women will experience a greater risk for osteoporosis and heart disease, as well, as the level of estrogen in their body drops. Note that premature menopause will also likely go hand in hand with emotional and psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety and others.
How Is Premature Menopause Treated?
There are few treatment options available for women going through premature menopause. The condition is not usually reversible. Dealing with symptoms is best done with methods used during regular menopause. These can include:
- Hormone Replacement Therapy - One of the most common treatment methods for women experiencing menopause is hormone replacement therapy. Generally, both estrogen and progesterone are used in this method.
- Estrogen Hormone Therapy - Some women benefit more from only estrogen hormone therapy, rather than conventional hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen can be supplied to the body through patches, orally, and in other ways.
- Natural Remedies - A number of natural herbs and supplements may be used to treat some or all symptoms of menopause, but it is important to always discuss these with your doctor prior to using them.
What Role Does Stem Cell Therapy Play?
Stem cells, the building blocks of the body’s healing and regenerative system, may be able to provide another treatment option for women suffering from premature and early menopause. Stem cells predate all other types of cells, eventually becoming the very tissues that make up the human body.
According to a study published in early 2018 in the journal The Endocrine Society,
“Young women with premature ovarian insufficiency may be able to use their own bone marrow stem cells to rejuvenate their ovaries and avoid the effects of premature menopause.”
The study will eventually involve 33 women, all of whom will be going through premature menopause. As of March 2018, two study participants had so far undergone mesenchymal stem cell injection with significant results. Ayman Al-Hendy, M.D, Ph.D., and Professor of Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago stated,
“In the two participants who have completed the treatment to date, serum estrogen levels have increased as soon as there months after the injection of stem cells, and the effect has lasted for at least one year. Their menopausal symptoms have been alleviated and six months after the injection of the stem cells into the ovaries, they have resumed menses.”
The Right Stem Cell Type
While the study discussed above is very promising, it does suffer from one flaw. It relies on autologous stem cells – that is, stem cells sourced from the patient’s own body. Often, these cells are harvested from fatty tissue or a bone marrow. Autologous stem cells are the most frequently used type, but they suffer from a number of problems, all of which are related to the age of the cells in question. Because they are the patient’s own cells, they are as old as the patient’s body. They also carry potentially significant damage and any number of mutations that limit their regenerative capabilities and lifespan.
A likely better solution is to use another type of stem cell – allogeneic stem cells. These are sourced from donated umbilical cord blood and tissue. Because of this, they are young, highly energetic and free of mutations and damage. They are also imbued with a very long lifespan with tremendous self-renewal and regenerative capabilities.
In the End
Stem cell therapy may ultimately provide the means to halt premature menopause symptoms, and even reverse the process completely, giving women back their fertility. However, it’s important to note that no stem cell therapies are approved by the FDA, and all treatments are considered experimental.