Reproduction, Hormones, and Menopause


Here is the handout for the topic of this lecture and next lecture:

Morning Sickness and Menopause

Readings: (Make sure you read the ones with *. The others are optional.)

This link describes some hypotheses for menopause, in addition to the ones we talked about in class:

Kaplan Menopause Hypothesis *

Nausea in Pregnancy *

This is a good reference suggesting that the number of menstrual cycles affects the lifetime risk of breast cancer:

Menstrual Cycles and Breast Cancer

Oral contraceptives and breast cancer:

OC and Breast Cancer

Difficulty with childbirth:

evolutionary_obstetrics *

For discussion:

Some suggest that menopause evolved because grandmothers are more successful at passing on their genes by investing in grandchildren than in more babies of their own. Others argue that menopause is a consequence of modern medicine prolonging the lifespan of women past 60 when most pre-historic women would be dead. So in the past reproductive aging would have been in sync with aging of the rest of the body. In this view menopause reflects the early mortality in pre-history and is a gene-environment mismatch. There is evidence for and against both the “grandmother hypothesis” and the “artificial lifespan prolongation” hypothesis.

Writing Project:

Is menopause a disease? Is the lack of estrogen a treatable deficiency? What do you think about the cessation of reproduction in middle-aged human females – normal or abnormal physiology? Write about the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) from an evolutionary point of view. Under which hypothesis, “grandmother” or “artificial lifespan prolongation” would you predict that HRT would be more helpful in promoting heath and preventing disease. What does the data say? (This will take some research.)

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