Menopause & Longevity: Women & Whales

Menopause & Longevity: Women & Whales

Alert husband Jim recently noticed a report on a study exploring the link between menopause and longevity. The study shows that the evolution of menopause in toothed whales is strikingly similar to the evolution of menopause in humans.

Menopause in both species came about through the evolution of a longer overall lifespan without extending the reproductive lifespan.

“So what?”, one might offer. Well, turns out it’s rather spectacularly rare. Of all mammals in the world, only humans, chimpanzees, and five species of whales are known to experience menopause.

Some perceived benefits for whales include:

  1. Longevity. Whales of species that experience menopause live up to 40 years longer than those of non-menopausal species. Also up to 40 years longer than males.
  2. As they are not focused on new offspring, menopausal whales can devote or share their resources (food, babysitting, wisdom to lead their pod to the right places when resources are thin on the ground—er…. water) to protecting and nourishing and helping the descendants they’ve already created. For example, post-menopausal female killer whales protect their sons from fights with other whales, thereby having an effect on male killer whale longevity.  Curiously, they don’t extend the same protection to their daughters. But…we always suspected killer whales…have issues. I mean, even humpback whales have noticed that.

Some humans may find a maternal resonance with the idea of being better able to nourish our children and grandchildren, and find post-menopausal meaning and purpose; and emotional, spiritual and even physical reward in doing so.

Other humans not so much maybe. If one finds oneself cringing at the prospect of eternal caretaking, that is not the only option. There are other ways to look at it.

Menopause often corresponds with the vānaprastha (forest dweller) stage of life; it can be a time when we spend some time in retreat and some time coming out of retreat in order to share what we’ve learned with either our biological, chosen or global family. That retreat time can be a time to finally practice pratyāhāra—turning our attention from the worldly affairs more inward. Doing so can be incredibly rejuvenating.

Whether you found menopause easy or hard, it is a monumental change. It is not unusual to find post-menopausal life to feel, look and be incredibly different than pre-menopausal life.

We’ll talk about stuff like this in Menopause Chronicles, coming May 10. You can register for the whole thing or, if you’re on the fence, just join us for the first class for free.

New: Menopause Chronicles, an honest conversation about transformation with Dr. Claudia Welch and friends.