August 17th, 2016
Females are born with millions of eggs inside their ovaries. Until puberty, these eggs remain in a state of latency; however, after reaching puberty, drastic changes occur in the biochemical environment of the body due to hormones. As a result of hormonal fluctuations, every month, few eggs are released from the ovary but only one egg achieves complete maturation. Once this egg is ovulated, it is released into the fallopian tubules to allow fertilization of egg and a normal pregnancy (in case of a successful sexual encounter).
With the passage of time, the release of mature eggs from ovaries become less frequent and the women become less capable of producing fully matured eggs. Needless to say that less frequent production of mature eggs is partly due to physiological aging and partly due to hormonal changes, which ultimately leads to menopause. In short, it marks the end of female fertility.
It has been believed that pregnancy is not possible after menopause; but according to a new study, there is still some hope for older women to become mother after the menopause. According to a study, menopause is considered as a natural contraceptive/ birth control method; however, about 5% women can still become pregnant after menopause and can give birth to healthy babies. But it is imperative to mention that chances are nearly negligible after a few years of menopause.
The most frequently used method to induce pregnancy in menopausal women is assisted reproductive technique (such as IVF). In this lieu, the example of 60—year old Punji Patel is noteworthy. Patel recently made it to the headline news after giving birth to a healthy baby boy (weighing 3.9 kg) at the age of 60, several years after her menopause.
Patel was married for 35 years and had menopause for about 15 years. Upon preliminary examination, doctors identified that her uterus was atrophic, which is why she was put on hormonal supplements. With calculated doses of hormones, her atrophic uterus was reactivated within a few months and she was able to have her normal monthly cycles. She then underwent a trial of IVF and became pregnant after the first attempt; ultimately giving birth to a healthy boy.
The latest treatment proposed by Greek scientists suggests that women can stay fertile even after menopause and can conceive with or without monthly menstrual cycles. The investigators also suggests that their treatment would allow women to have a normal pregnancy with their own genetic material without having to go through any hormonal therapy or surgery.
Scientists from Greece developed a new treatment (involving platelet rich plasma or PRP), which is believed to reverse early menopause and atrophic changes in the female reproductive system. According to latest estimates, early menopause (or cessation of monthly menstrual cycles before 55-60 years of age) affects about 1% of the women population. Some women may experience menopause in their late 30s or early 40s due to a medical or surgical condition (such as cancer or radiation therapy).
A team of researchers under Konstantinos Sfakianoudi, a Greek gynecologist and head of Genesis Athens Fertility clinic identified that PRP treatment was able to rejuvenate female reproductive system in early menopausal women (who had not menstruated for the past 5 years or less). PRP (or platelet-rich plasma) is derived by centrifuging person’s own blood sample to obtain a rich concentrate of growth factors and valuable proteins. Once this concentrate is introduced in tissues, the growth factors aids in tissue regeneration. PRP therapies are fairly useful in degenerative bone and joint conditions.
It is too early to say if this treatment would actually help women in getting pregnant or giving birth to healthy babies. However, a lot of healthcare professionals believes that pregnancy after menopause has its own risks; for example:
Scientists believes that with this latest treatment, many women will be able to resume their menstrual cycle. The research team is currently waiting for approval of this treatment method from the medical fraternity so that clinical trials can be carried out to assess the quality of results in a larger subset of population.
2. Hamzelou, J. (2016). Reversing the menopause. New Scientist, 231(3083), 8-9.
3. Kort, D. H., Gosselin, J., Choi, J. M., Thornton, M. H., Cleary-Goldman, J., & Sauer, M. V. (2012). Pregnancy after age 50: defining risks for mother and child. American journal of perinatology, 29(04), 245-250.