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Many Researchers Ignore Menopause When Studying Women and Aging

Menopause—that major transitional chapter in women’s lives—is not considered in most studies focused on understanding the biology of aging. As a result, significant gaps are present in women’s healthcare, according to an article published in Nature Aging. 

The article’s authors, who are from Harvard Medical School, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Minnesota, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, noted that more than 75 percent of age-related diseases are likely influenced by menopause--but less than one percent of published studies considered menopause in their analysis.

Dr. Fabrisia Ambrosio, the article’s lead author and a Harvard Medical School associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, said that while women generally live longer than men, they also experience more physical and cognitive declines as well as cardiovascular issues.  For example, women develop osteoarthritis more frequently than men, and the onset starts around the time of menopause. 

Ambrosio and her co-authors also noted that aging is another important biological variable that needs to be considered by researchers. “So now we’re thinking about the intersection of sex and aging and the need to ensure that our aging models are capturing human trajectories,” Ambrosio said in a Harvard Medical School news story. “The first step is increased recognition of the limitations of the current models and consideration of the contribution of menopause to aging and disease. I hope we’ll start seeing more studies take menopause and other female-specific traits into account to better understand aging and disease in human females.”

Ambrosio is well-published on this topic. In a Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital interview titled Q&A: Fabrisia Ambrosio: 99 Percent of Preclinical Aging Research Ignores Menopause, she continues to discuss this topic.  “Our healthcare system lacks data on how to treat age-related diseases in females,” she notes. “In the clinic, we're falling behind and can’t treat aging females as effectively as we would like. It represents a significant gap in clinical practice.” 

The I Start Wondering team appreciates menopause research trailblazers like Dr. Lisa Mosconi (who was the subject of a column on brain health by ISW’s Mara Soloway) and Ambrosio and her colleagues who have noted that females will spend about a third of their lives post-menopausal. 

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