Imagine if the onset of menopause could be pushed back? And the hot flushes, brain fog and insomnia many women experience, could actually be delayed until their 90s or beyond?
Well, it might not be such a far-flung idea, with recent research suggesting that a procedure used to treat infertility in cancer patients could potentially be used to delay menopause indefinitely.
The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) and based on a mathematical model, indicated that by implanting a woman’s previously harvested ovarian tissue, the follicles needed to restore their fertility could be rebuilt.
The process is called ovarian tissue cryopreservation and has been used on cancer patients who would have otherwise become infertile from early-onset menopause brought about by their treatment.
Results of the model predicted that for most women aged over 40 years, ovarian tissue cryopreservation and transplantation would result in a significant delay in menopause.
The study concluded: "Our model predicts that with harvesting at earlier adult ages and better transplant techniques, a significant menopause postponement and, potentially, fertile lifespan extension can be achieved by ovarian tissue cryopreservation and transplantation in healthy women."
While the procedure has not been studied in humans, if the breakthrough does prove to be successful, it could have wide reaching implications for women approaching menopause.
"A lot of the interest behind delaying menopause is fertility, but a lot of it also comes from the idea that functioning ovaries are better for a woman's health," Sean Lawley, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Utah and co-author of the study told MedicalXpress.
"Menopause is associated with many health issues relating to cardiovascular disease, bone density, obesity, etc. Keeping ovaries functioning longer might delay or even prevent these health issues from starting."
While the research is certainly interesting, Dr Paula Briggs, chair of the British Menopause Society and consultant in sexual and reproductive health, has some words of warning.
"With regards to ovarian tissue transplant I would not assume that this could delay menopause – it’s been developed for fertility purposes," she says.
However, according to Dr Briggs, you're never too young to start prepping for the menopause.
"In my opinion, children should learn about menopause at school and all women should have access to good quality, non-biased information, such as that on the Women's Health Concern (WHC) website, as early as possible, so that they are not taken by surprise in the perimenopause," she explains.
So while we await further research into the potential possibility of delaying the menopause, there are some measures women can take to better prepare their bodies for the period.
How to prep for the menopause
Try to control your weight
The change in hormonal balance caused by the menopause can cause havoc with the appetite and mood, as well as the lipid (fat) metabolism in the body, which means that many women end up putting on weight when they start the menopause.
"As that's difficult to control, it's an idea to try to do your best before you get to that stage," advises Dr Miriam Ferrer, menopause expert at FutureYou Cambridge. "It's not about trying to be super thin, just making sure you are at the right BMI for you.
"Excessive weight will also affect your bone and heart health, increasing the effect of the menopause on those systems," she adds.
Eat the rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are a very rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules. "Having high levels of 'oxidative stress' and inflammatory molecules in our body is bad for us, and can affect our hormonal balance," explains Dr Ferrer.
"Women that have higher inflammation status in their body are more likely to suffer worse symptoms, as the inflammatory signals can increase the hormonal dysregulation."
The fall in hormone levels (namely, oestrogen) that accompanies the menopause can also increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
"A healthy diet is essential at this stage: keep it low in saturated fat and salt to reduce blood pressure, and rich in calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones," explains Dr Briggs. "Some women take dietary supplements to help get the balance right."
Keep on your feet
Some women experience increased anxiety during the menopause, but regular exercise helps to convert stress into positive energy, while guarding against heart disease. "A regular, varied programme is best: try cycling, swimming, running or aerobics," Dr Briggs adds.
Smoking has been shown to lead to an earlier menopause and trigger hot flushes. "If you smoke you also run a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), which is the most common form of death in women," Dr Briggs says.
The combination of excessive alcohol and hormonal instability is a risky one, warns Dr Briggs. "Alcohol increases flushes and is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer," she explains. "Try not to drink more than two units of alcohol per day, and keep at least one day a week alcohol-free."
Try to stay calm and positive
Hormone imbalance during the menopause can result in added stress and even depression. "Relaxation techniques and counselling can be very helpful in coping with anxiety," Dr Briggs says.
Make use of health screening services
Studies have shown that a late menopause leads to an increased risk of breast cancer. "The NHS offers screening, but you should also keep a check on any changes in your breasts, and seek advice if they occur," Dr Briggs advises.
Menopause: Read more
The best exercises to relieve menopause symptoms, according to science (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
Woman convinced symptoms were the perimenopause discovers she had brain tumour (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
How the menopause impacts mental health, according to experts (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
Watch: Naomi Watts has no idea how she got pregnant after being told she was menopausal in her 30s