A recent piece of research from the UK in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that a diet rich in oily fish and legumes (beans, peas for example) could delay the menopause in women. Eating refined carbohydrates like pasta and rice could do the opposite and help hasten its onset.
The study of more than 900 women in the UK at the University of Leeds identified some intriguing associations between diet and the early start or delaying of the menopause. Indeed, the study revealed close links and associations between consumption of certain food groups and the menopause. The women also provided information about their physical activity levels, reproductive history and weight over time.
The menopause is a critical point in many women’s lives because it indicates the end of their reproductive span. Levels of the hormone, oestrogen decline and there is a an increase in levels of progesterone. Such changes produce medical changes too (Pokoradi et al., 2011; Schoenaker et al., 2014)
The study was observational. It is not possible to tell if the consumption of particular food groups directly affected the onset of menopause or if they reflected some other hidden factor.
Janet Cade, Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology and study co-author, at the University of Leeds, UK, with her colleagues analysed data from 900 women who experienced their natural start of the menopause between the ages of 40 and 65. They also found, after looking at 14,000 women in the UK, that the average age of menopause was 51 (Sari et al., 2015).
Women, who ate an additional daily portion of refined white pasta or rice tended to reach menopause around one and a half years earlier than average. However, an extra daily serving of oily fish was associated with the delay of more than 3 years. Oily fish includes mackeral, salmon and sardines.
Diets high in fresh legumes such as peas and beans were linked with women reaching the menopause around a year earlier. A 90g daily portion was associated with a one year delay. A higher intake of vitamin B6 and zinc, was also associated with later onset.
Health Implications Associated With Early Menopause
“The age at which menopause begins can have serious health implications for some women” asserted Cade.
“A clear understanding of how diet affects the start of natural menopause will be very beneficial to those who may already be at risk or have a family history of certain complications related to menopause.”
Women, who go through menopause early, have an increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Those who do so later can be more likely to develop breast room and ovarian cancers.
Cade and her fellow researchers suggest that the antioxidants in legumes may help keep the menstrual cycle going for longer. The antioxidants may affect both maturation and release of eggs which preserves menstruation for longer. Omega 3 fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish are also believed to enhance antioxidant status and increase capacity throughout the body.
Unfortunately, it is possible that refined carbohydrates increased the risk of insulin resistance. This may interfere with activity of sex hormones by boosting oestrogen levels. A rise in oestrogen levels causes a quicker depletion of egg supply.
Lead author, Yashvee Dunneram, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition, said:
“This study is the first to investigate the links between individual nutrients and a wide variety of food groups and age at natural menopause in a large cohort of British women.
“But further studies are needed to improve understanding on how this may impact health and wellbeing.”
Some commentators however caution against changing diet to alter the onset of menopause simply because no direct link has been made.
Dunneram, Y., Greenwood, D.C., Burley, V.J., et al., (2018) Dietary intake and age at natural menopause: results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 30 April 2018. doi: 10.1136/jech-2017-209887 (Article)
Pokoradi, A.J., Iversen, L., Hannaford, P.C. (2011) Factors associated with age of onset and type of menopause in a cohort of UK women. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 205:34.e1–13. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2011.02.059 (Article)
Sarri, G., Davies, M., Lumsden, M.A., et al. (2015) Diagnosis and management of menopause: summary of NICE guidance. BMJ 351:h5746–6.doi:10.1136/bmj.h5746 (Article)
Schoenaker DA , Jackson CA , Rowlands JV , et al. (2014) Socioeconomic position, lifestyle factors and age at natural menopause: a systematic review and meta-analyses of studies across six continents. Int. J. Epidemiol. 43 pp. 1542–62. doi:10.1093/ije/dyu094 (Article)