Menopause is the naturally occurring phase in a woman’s life in which she loses the ability to reproduce. It’s associated with certain symptoms and behaviours such as hot flushes, mood swings, and night sweats.
A Genetic Basis for Menopause
For a while now, scientists have speculated as to the cause of this condition. Evolutionary Biologists have pointed to a “grandmother theory” that says infertile women in their old age would be better equipped to play roles in the education of future generations. They cite evidence that older women are less likely to birth healthy babies as they approach menopause. There was even a play written about this theory called ‘The How and the Why’.
The late G.C. Williams was the first to claim menopause as a genetic adaptation. He believed, in old age, it became advantageous for women to stop “dividing [their] declining faculties between the care of extant offspring and the production of new ones”.
Geneticist Dr. Aarthi Prasad recently made the claim that humans will evolve out of menopause? Does this have anything to do with the recent “Cougar Phenomenon”? (I doubt it, but if it does, sign me up for the clinical studies.)
A New Theory
A new study published by the PLOS Computational Biology Journal was conducted by McMaster University professor Dr. Rama Singh. The results of which, Dr. Singh believes, indicate that man’s preference for younger women caused women to lose fertility in their old age.
Using computer modeling, Dr. Sing and his team were led to believe that, over time, men competing for younger mates left older females with a much smaller chance of reproducing. He believes it was a change in male mating-patterns that allowed this to occur.
Dr. Singh compares menopause to any other genetically programmed sign of aging: “”That’s just like all the mutations that affect our aging — white hair, weak muscles, this and that. These are mutations which affect fertility.”
Singh hopes his research will lead to a better understanding of menopause, which is associated with a slew of health problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Singh would like to extend women’s reproductive usefulness and maintain better health into old age.
When this writer asked a woman close to him about her take on this developments she responded with disinterest: “Shocker.”
Why Dr. Singh is Probably Wrong
Dr. Maxwell Burton-Chellew disagrees with Dr. Singh’s claim. The University of Oxford Biologist believes the opposite is probably true: Men are less attracted to older women because they are less fertile and less likely to birth healthy babies. The Oxford professor said to BBC reporters: “Evolutionarily-speaking, older females faced an interesting ‘choice’: have a child that may not reach adulthood before your own death, or stop reproducing and instead focus on helping your younger relatives reproduce.”
Dr. Steven Goldstein, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine, also disagreed with Professor Singh. He cited the fact that there are other primates that experience menopause near the end of their lives. He went on to say “The cessation of reproductive capabilities in higher primates has always come shortly before the life span ends. It is only the advances of modern society that have women living so very long,”