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Are Men to Blame for Menopause?

a blog by Kim Griffiths, June 21, 2013

It is not unusual to see an older man courting the likes of a woman easily mistaken for his daughter, but what does this behavior say about menopause and female fertility? Simply stated, this tendency toward youth may be the evolutionary cause of menopause.

A new study published in PLOS Computational Biology says menopause is still poorly understood by doctors and researchers in the field of reproductive medicine. Popular theory suggests that older men prefer younger women because they are fertile, but what if their act of choosing youthful mates is what drove women to menopause in the first place?

Computational biologists did the math to see how this theory would play out. Assuming women had infinite fertility and lifespan, researchers then factored in genetic changes and various pathways by which a woman could be led toward infertility and death. By altering the initial formula to allow for mating at any age by either sex, women’s lifespan and fertility drastically declined. Once the formula was adjusted to represent men’s preference for younger women, results indicated that women suffer a loss of their fertility, on average, 20 years before death: menopause. This period of infertility which spans over several decades is unique to humans, and other primates have shown the opposite mating behaviors to be true- that males prefer older females. Interesting information in support of the male role in menopause.

By the same calculations, if women tend toward mating with younger males, a male version of menopause would ensue. This theory is currently being tested with fruit flies, whose reproductive processes closely resemble that of humans.

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