By the time most women can actually afford to have a kid (with a career that's stable enough to focus on motherhood) the fertility window is no longer wide open—it's slowly sliding closed. Plus: egg freezing, surrogates, adoption? Those options are pricey.
But recently, two scientists—working completely independently—say they have found ways to reverse the aging process in women, stimulating hormone growth to the point where women who had gone through menopause years ago have started menstruating again.
So, they say getting pregnant (very) late in life could be possible. If that's true, menopause could be optional for the first time in history.
Here, the famous doctors behind the studies explain the science behind it. Plus the inevitable question: What does this mean for feminism? Is it empowering to be able to control your body to such an extreme, or should women respect the natural course of things?
Keep reading for everything you need to know about the emerging science that could transform life for postmenopausal women.
The "melatonin miracle"
Women all over the world travel to the Italian medical practice of Walter Pierpaoli, MD, to experience the "melatonin miracle" (his words, and also the title of his book). Back in 2001, Dr. Pierpaoli published a study showing that melatonin has the potential to delay aging and reverse menopause in women. In one case, a woman became pregnant three years after she stopped getting her period.
"Menopause is a program directed by the pituitary gland," he explains. "If you take melatonin, you protect the pituitary gland, which controls hormones related to fertility and aging. It's responsible for puberty and also the onset of menopause."
Dr. Pierpaoli adamantly believes every woman should start taking melatonin as soon as possible—even if they are completely uninterested in prolonging their fertility, and he sees no negatives to taking it. He says it does everything from prevent breast cancer to keeping the brain balanced. "The reason why is because it protects the pituitary gland by controlling the production of hormones. And hormones produce cancer," he explains.
The type of melatonin he doles out isn't available stateside, but if you want to start supplementing with melatonin sold near you, the recommended daily dose is .02–.05 milligram, according to scientific studies. To get on the regimen Dr. Pierpaoli designed, right now you're going to have to see him—as in, get on a waiting list and then fly to Italy for treatments. There is no similar option here in the US. "I want to help women break free," Dr. Pierpaoli says. "Once women understand how melatonin can be used, they can be more independent. It's important to protect women."
Bringing ovaries back to life
Dr. Pierpaoli isn't the only doctor attempting to reverse the aging process. Konstantinos Pantos, MD, a fertility specialist based in Athens, Greece, uses something called ovarian rejuvenation.
"It's done by taking plasma platelets and injecting them into the ovaries," he explains. "It stimulates younger follicles to start producing [again]." This rejuvenation technique is already used in plastic surgery and orthopedics to regenerate damaged skin, muscles, and bones, so Dr. Pantos' thought was, why not ovaries?
Not only does he say it is working, but in Dr. Pantos' view, there are no risks. "There aren’t complications because the plasma we are using is from the same woman and not from another woman," he says. "It stimulates the follicles to come to the surface and come back to life. At the moment, we have quite a few postmenopausal women who are now ovulating. It doesn't work for every woman, but we've had a lot of success."
Dr. Pantos says one of his postmenopausal patients who now gets her period regularly is currently trying to get pregnant the old-fashioned way, and he's anxious to see what happens next. "The study is still ongoing, so we have to wait to know more," he says. Because of this, it isn't yet an option for the general population. But it is a major indicator as to what could come.
The ethical dilemma
Having a way to control fertility and aging is empowering. But should women really be having babies in their 50s, 60s, and 70s? Could this new science take things too far? Even as a loud-and-proud feminist, Cathi Hanauer says she is torn.
"I think anything that gives women a choice about their bodies, lives, and time clocks is empowering and important. But I'm not sure that's the same as saying we shouldn't respect the natural way the body ages," says Hanauer, whose new book, The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and Getting Happier, includes essays from a host of contributors about womanhood and getting older. "Maybe I'd get used to it if it became a regular thing, but right now, I can't help thinking of the significant downsides."
But ruminating further, Hanauer, who herself became a mom in her 30s, sees another side: "Maybe we'd find ways to compensate for the downsides. After all, who'd have thought, even a decade or two ago, that a woman could go online, buy sperm and get herself pregnant—without ever even meeting the father? I know women who have done exactly this and have beautiful babies. And everyone couldn't be happier." Is silencing the ticking clock really best? Time, it seems, will tell.
More hormone intel: Here's why you don't have a sex drive (and how to deal with it), and yes, you can ditch crazy monthly mood swings for good.
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