Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), is the loss of ovarian function before the age of 40 some women confuse it with menopause , but menopause is a natural process that the female body goes through as it ages.
The main difference is that during menopause the women’s body will gradually stop producing the eggs for ovulation and the eosterogen and the progesterone levels will decline naturally causing the menstrual cycle to stop gradually.
This generally happens from the 45 to 55.
But Premature ovarian failure is not a naturally occuring process, premature ovarian failure due to something that causes either follicular depletion or follicular dysfunction.
Ideally each women is born with thousands of follicules in the ovaries.
The follicles respond to a hormone called the follicular stimulating hormone(FSH) at eache time of the menstrual cycle and the maturing follicles eventually release and increase the levels of oestrogen. As oestrogen rises the further release of FSH is curbed . This happens as a rhythemic cycle and leads to a helathy menstrual cycle.
In some women however for some reasons the follicles do not mature and the body continues to produce FSH.
Women with POF show high levels of FSH. This is why the doctors perform FSH tests, to see if the levels are too high.
In a normal functioning follicle, the estrogen levels rise and signal the pituitary gland to release Lutenizing Hormone (LH). LH signals the follicle to open and release the mature egg at ovulation.
When the delicate communication between the pituitary gland, the ovaries and the follicles does not work properly, ovulation does not occur.
So what are the reasons for Premature ovarian failure?
Follicle Dysfunction and follicle depletion are the two main reasons for premature ovarian failure.
Follicle dysfunction happens when your follicles are not responding properly. Here are some possible causes…
Autoimmune Disorders:- in this the womens body produces antibodies and attack the ovaries , doctors are not sure as to why this happens and some say it is because of exposure to virus . but the fact is that when the follicle becomes damaged it can no longer produce oestrogen properly. And oestrogen is the key hormone to communicate with the pituitary gland. .
Follicle Depletion: sometimes the follicles just don’t respond to the FSH being released and eventually die out.
Causes of follicle depletion
- Environmental toxins including pesticides, herbicides, cigarette smoke, pollutants, chemicals
- Exposure to a virus
- Chromosomal defects, including Turner’s Syndrome and X syndrome
- Genetic predisposition, this may run in some families, accounting for 10% of POF cases
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are some of the leading causes of POF and follicle depletion
Symptoms of POF
Symptoms of POF are similar to those of menopause, but may be more extreme.
- Irregular periods (Note: other conditions such as PCOS also have this symptom)
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Brain fog – inability or difficulty in focusing
- Vaginal dryness
- Unexplained infertility
- Low libido
All of these symptoms are similar to other fertility issues, which makes self diagnosis incredibly difficult. If you have missed your period for over 3 months and are over the age of 35, you may want to talk to your doctor about testing for POF.
Low levels of oestrogen and high levels of FSH are signs of Premature ovarian failure.
There is also a blood test that measures the levels of AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) AMH levels correlate with how many antral follicles are in the ovaries. Women with low levels of AMH typically have low levels of follicles.
What does it mean to have Premature ovarian failure?
A definitive diagnosis of POF usually means that you will have extreme difficulty getting pregnant; though women with POF may still become pregnant, so do not give up hope if you have not yet had a child because it could still happen.
What you can do?
While we cannot control genetic factors, or situations where we have had to make hard decisions like choosing chemotherapy or radiation to fight other health problems, we can surely work toward avoiding toxins.
Here is where lifestyle changes and nutrition comes in to play.
- Buy organic foods whenever possible! Non-organic foods often contain pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics.
- Avoid using pesticides or herbicides in your yard, garden or surrounding areas.
- Avoid synthetic-chemical-loaded-mainstream body products including make-up.
- Avoid using feminine products that are not made from organic cotton, contain plastic or are made from rayon.
- Drink filtered water, avoid tap water.
Nutrition plays a big role, we need to choose helathy options that provide with natural antioxidants, vitamins & protiens.
Natural substances like Maca and shatavari are nourishing and help restore hormonal balance.
Shatavari in perticular has been used for thousands of years in ayurveda and has the ability of acting as a oestrogen modulator.
The homoeopathic medicine Agnus is known to act on the hypothalamic-pituitary –ovarian axis correcting and regulating the entire reproductive system.
Exercise gets our hearts beating faster which in turn pumps more fresh oxygenated blood to the entire body; mainly our vital organs – each playing a vital role in our body functioning properly.
Exercise helps us to eliminate toxins .
The increase incidence in conditions like Premature ovarian failure and PCOD shows how intricately connected our reproductive system and brain are connected.
Environmental toxins, lack of exercise, faulty eating habits and stress play a huge role in a women’s life.
Now is the time to work toward supporting the entire body’s health for the future by supporting its natural functions through diet, exercise, clean water and supportive natural therapies.
Dr Abhay Talwalkar(M.D.)