A Theory for the Origin of Human Menopause Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • A complete and compelling evolutionary explanation for the origin of human menopause is wanting. Menopause onset is defined clinically as the final menses, confirmed after 1 year without menstruation. The theory proposed herein explains at multiple levels - ultimately genetic but involving (1) behavioral, (2) life history, and (3) social changes - the origin and evolution of menopause in women. Individuals in Lower Paleolithic human populations were characterized by short lifespans with diminished late-age survival and fertility, similar to contemporary chimpanzees, and thence were subject to three changes. (1) A mating behavior change was established in which only young women reproduced, thereby rendering as effectively neutral female-specific late-onset fertility-diminishing mutations, which accumulated subsequently. (2) A lifespan increase was manifested adaptively, revealing the reproductive senescence phenotype encoded in late-onset fertility-diminishing mutation genotypes, which, heretofore, had been unexpressed in the shorter lifespan. (3) A social interaction change emerged exaptively, when older non-reproductive women exclusively started assisting in rearing grandchildren rather than giving birth to and caring for their own children, ultimately leading to menstrual cycle cessation. The changes associate in a one-to-one manner with existing, non-mutually exclusive hypotheses for the origin of human menopause. Evidence for each hypothesis and its associated change having occurred are reviewed, and the hypotheses are combined in a synthetic theory for the origin of human menopause. The new theory simultaneously addresses the main theoretical problem with each hypothesis and yields predictions for future testing.

publication date

  • 2016