Home Health & Fitness Could delaying menopause boost women's health? 1 woman shares her story

Could delaying menopause boost women’s health? 1 woman shares her story

As Bonnie Discepolo watched the women in her family age, she noticed a sharp decrease in their health and quality of life when they reached menopause.

“Your life is on a great trajectory and then you hit this and there’s a cascade of negative health benefits,” the filmmaker, actor and writer from Connecticut told NBC’s Anne Thompson in a segment aired April 25. “You still have to keep all the balls in the air, doing everything that you want while also enduring … sleep issues, body temperature regulation issues, bone loss, cardiovascular issues, higher chance of cancer.”

For about a decade, Discepolo has been researching menopause and how that might impact her life. She found a study examining whether ramamycin — a drug often used to prevention rejection after organ transplants — might delay menopause. Researchers have hypothesized that pushing back menopause could lessen some of the health problems associated with it.

“It seems like the consequences (of menopause) are really, really bad from a public health perspective,” Discepolo said. “I’m looking at anything I can do to kick that down the road because I want to thrive.”

RELATED: Should menopause be optional?

Menopause’s impact on health

While many know about the uncomfortable changes in menopause, such as hot flashes and mood changes, it can also come with some serious health consequences, including increased risk for heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis, said Dr. Zev Williams, director of the Columbia University Fertility Center.

“While the ovary is functional, you’ll see this health benefit that women have over men,” he told Thompson. “So lower rates of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, dementia … but then once menopause occurs, those health benefits get lost.”

Experts now know that the ovaries contribute more to women’s overall health than simply fertility.

“The ovary, for so long, has been viewed just as a source of eggs,” Williams said. “We really now appreciate that this little organ — there’s so much more in terms of the woman’s health and wellbeing.” 

Bonnie Discepolo
Bonnie Discepolo hopes that by participating in a clinical trial investigating delaying menopause, she can add to what experts understand about menopause and its negative health impacts.Courtesy Bonnie Discepolo

So, Williams began to wonder if slowing ovarian aging and postponing menopause could bolster women’s health.

“There is potential that if we can delay menopause, we can actually not only delay a lot of the negative symptoms that can come with menopause but … a lot of the negative consequences from it, which include all causes of death,” Williams said. “To be able to have a safe, relatively low-cost method to slow various aging, delay menopause and as a result have an improvement in terms of health and longevity would be just such a tremendous win.”

Williams is leading a study to understand the impact of slowing ovarian age on women’s health. The double-blind study looks at 100 women between 35 and 45 who have normal periods. (Double-blind means no one knows who receives the treatment and who receives the placebo.) Subjects are randomized to receive either rapamycin or a placebo. For three months, participants take a pill, and researchers will follow them for another nine months.

“The way we’re trying to delay menopause is by really tapping into the rate at which the eggs get used up in the ovary,” Williams explained. “A woman is born with all the eggs that she’ll have, and those eggs get used up as she ages. And once all the eggs are used up, that’s when menopause occurs.”

While results haven’t been published yet, the early results indicate the trial is safe.  

“(There) was no serious adverse outcome,” he said, adding that no one experienced “any ovarian dysfunction, so that was also very reassuring.”

And it seems that some participants feel some relief.

“One group is reporting a better sense of wellbeing, better mood, better stamina, better memory,” Williams said. “Another group is reporting feeling pretty much the same. So, we’ll have to wait to unbind the data to see if those two groups map out to whether they were receiving the drug or placebo.” 

Participating in a clinical trial

Discepolo’s grandmother and aunt both broke hips thanks to bone changes that occur in menopause. For 20 years, her mom has struggled with hot flashes, poor sleep and worsened cognitive function that makes her unhappy. Discepolo hopes to avoid such perils and believes delaying menopause makes sense.  

“If we’re living until we’re 100, to hit menopause at 50 and then look at 40 or 50 years of cardiovascular implications and bone health loss, I just don’t think our bodies have caught up to our lifespans,” she said. “The last thing I want to be doing is also dealing with all of these difficult body changes.”

Like the others in the trial, Discepolo doesn’t know if she’s received the drug or placebo. Still, she observed a difference in how she felt.

“I started taking it the first month, and I thought, ‘Oh I’m probably on the placebo. I haven’t noticed anything,’” she recalled. “Then as we got into that second and third month, people started saying, ‘Hey you look great, what are you doing?’ Or I would notice that I was sleeping through the night.”

She admitted that the placebo effect might be working for her.

“If it turns out I got the placebo, I’m very excited about my brain, my body’s ability to just be like, ‘Oh all we needed to do was take some sugar pills and you sleep better,’” she said.

While some people might be attracted to delaying menopause to increase fertility, that’s not what motivates Discepolo. She hopes that by being a part of women’s health research she can empower other women.

“Participating in this study feels like a calling to me,” she said. “(It) potentially will be a bigger legacy than my films.”


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