Nicole Shanahan Jennifer Garrison Life Itself Wellness
Extending the age of healthy female fertility
15:03 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

One organ in a woman’s body ages more than twice as fast as all other tissues, wreaking havoc with both fertility and long-term health.

“Ovaries are very strange, very odd in terms of the rest of the human body. We can think about them like an accelerated model for human aging,” said Jennifer Garrison, an assistant professor at California’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging, the world’s first biomedical research institution devoted exclusively to the science of aging.

“When a woman is in her late 20s or early 30s, the rest of her tissue is functioning at peak performance, but her ovaries are already showing overt signs of aging,” Garrison told an audience at Life Itself, a health and wellness event presented this year in partnership with CNN.

“Yet most women learn about their ovaries and ovarian function when they go to use them for the first time and find out they’re geriatric,” she added.

The consequences of aged ovaries extend beyond fertility, especially during menopause, the period of time when a person stops having a menstrual cycle.

“When the ovaries stop working due to menopause, they stop making a cocktail of hormones important for general health,” Garrison told CNN. “Even in healthy women, it dramatically increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, cognitive decline, insomnia, osteoporosis, weight gain, arthritis – those are medically established facts.”

There’s more. The age of menopause is also tied to longevity. The average age of natural menopause in the United States is 51, according to the North American Menopause Society.

“Studies show women who have later menopause tend to live longer and have an enhanced ability to repair their DNA,” Garrison said. “But women with natural menopause before the age of 40 are twice as likely to die (early) compared with women going through natural menopause between the ages 50 to 54.”

What if science could learn to slow the rate of aging in ovaries?

“It would be a game changer, right? Women would have parity and options in their reproductive choices and be empowered with control over their lives,” Garrison said. “And at the same time, we could delay the onset of these age-related diseases and hopefully extend life.”

An egg in your grandmother’s womb

Wrap your brain around this: You are a product of an oocyte (an immature egg) that was growing in your grandmother’s womb. Here’s how:

By the time a female fetus reaches 20 weeks gestation, there are between 6 million and 7 million oocytes in those tiny, developing ovaries. You came from one of those – which means that when your grandmother was about five months pregnant, you were a spec of a possibility inside her womb.