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Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology
Melissa Melby

1995 M.Phil. in Environment and Development (Geography)University of Cambridge, England
1993 C.P.G.S. (Certificate of Postgraduate Study) in Natural Sciences(Chemistry) University of Cambridge, England
1992 B.A. in Chemistry Reed College, Portland, OR

Menopause - I plan to do my dissertation in Japan investigating the relationship between phytoestrogens in the diet and the experience of koonenki (menopause) among Japanese women. Following Margaret Lock's (McGill University) extensive ethnographic and survey research in which she reported low levels of hot flushes compared to N. American women, I plan to characterize the menopausal transition using hormonal analyses (minimally invasive blood spot measures), phytoestrogen analyses, dietary surveys, in-depth interviews.

Anthropology has long been involved in studies of cultural differences, but has often neglected to examine biological differences between populations. The menopausal transition, like other events in a woman's reproductive life, entails both biological and sociocultural changes. Although good cross-cultural work has been done recently, menopause remains poorly understood from a biocultural perspective. Numerous studies of reproductive endocrinology still have not identified key factors which distinguish symptomatic women (i.e., with hot flushes) from asymptomatic women. As demographic profiles of countries around the world move toward a greater proportion of individuals over age 50, the experience of the menopausal transition may exert a great impact on public health and medical costs, as well as on individual quality of life, and general social structure and relations.

Several aspects of the environment (such as nutrition and workload) have been examined by reproductive ecologists, but particular components of the diet, such as phytoestrogens, have yet to be studied closely. Increasingly diet (including micronutrients and secondary compounds) is gaining recognition as playing an important role in many aspects of health, from cancer to cardiovascular health and osteoporosis. Specific dietary factors may also affect aspects of human reproductive endocrinology. Menopause, which is characterized by falling endogenous estrogen levels and endocrine dysregulation, provides a unique opportunity to explore the influence of phytoestrogens on the dynamics and regulation of the reproductive endocrine system.

This research aims to characterize the menopausal transition in Japanese women from a biocultural perspective, examining endocrinological, social, psychological, and physical data, and including a focus on diet that is often lacking in many studies of the menopause. I plan to investigate the potentially moderating effects of phytoestrogens on hormone levels in women, with a particular focus on menopausal symptoms in pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women.

Currently working with Margaret Moloney (degrees) in the Emory University School of Nursing on an exploratory study of migraines with perimenopausal women with migraines.

Jealousy - Working with E.O. Smith (Emory, Anthropology), we designed a survey to test evolutionary hypotheses on sex differences in jealousy. Heart rate data in response to hypothetical scenarios were collected on a subsample of subjects. Analysis is in progress.

PMS - Working with E.O. Smith (Emory, Anthropology) we are developing a model of PMS using an evolutionary/developmental perspective.

Sleep - We have carried out a pilot study using actigraphy in order to assess the feasibility of using this device (Motionlogger-Actigraph (Ambulatory Monitoring)) for field studies of human chronobiology and the ecology of sleep.

Relevant Publications
in press Worthman, C. M. and M. K. Melby. "Toward a comparative developmental ecology of human sleep." Adolescent Sleep Patterns: Biological, Social, and Psychological Influences. M. A. Carskadon. New York, Cambridge University press.

1999 M.K. Melby and E.O. Smith. PMS: A bioculture-bound syndrome. Am. J. of Phys. Anth. Suppl.
1997 M.K. Melby and C.M. Worthman. Comparative human chronobiology: how people spend the other third of their lives. Am. J. of Phys. Anth. Suppl. 24:168.

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