But high dietary intake of refined carbs
may help to hasten it, suggests research
April 30, 2018
A diet rich in fish and legumes may help to
delay the natural menopause, while high dietary intake of refined carbs, such
as pasta and rice, may instead help to hasten it, suggests the first UK study
of its kind.
A diet rich in fish and
legumes may help to delay the natural menopause, while high dietary intake of
refined carbs, such as pasta and rice, may instead help to hasten it, suggests
the first UK study of its kind, published online in the Journal of
Epidemiology & Community Health.
behavioural, and environmental factors are thought to be involved in the timing
of the menopause, and some studies have implicated diet.
To explore this further,
the researchers drew on participants from the UK Women’s Cohort Study, involving
more than 35,000 women between the ages of 35 and 69 from England, Scotland,
The women provided
information on potentially influential factors such as weight history, physical
activity levels, reproductive history, and use of hormone replacement therapy
They also estimated the
quantities of 217 foodstuffs they ate every day by completing a food frequency
questionnaire. The food items were collated into groups according to their
Further information on
when the women had gone through the menopause naturally was gathered 4 years
In all, some 14,000 women
provided information at both time points, and the final analysis included the
914 who had gone through the menopause naturally after the age of 40 and before
the age of 65.
The average age at
menopause was 51, and certain foods seemed to be associated with its timing.
Each additional daily
portion of refined carbs — specifically pasta and rice — was associated with
reaching the menopause 1.5 years earlier, after taking account of potentially
But each additional
portion of oily fish and fresh legumes (eg peas, beans) was associated with a
delay of more than 3 years. Higher intakes of vitamin B6 and zinc (per mg/day)
were also associated with later menopause.
Similar results emerged
when the analysis looked at particular groups. For example, eating meat was
associated with menopause arriving almost a year later than a vegetarian diet.
Among those who weren’t
vegetarian, upping daily portions of savoury snacks was associated with the
arrival of the menopause almost 2 years earlier, while higher intake of oily
fish and fresh legumes was linked to later menopause of more than 3 and nearly
1.5 years, respectively.
Similarly, among mothers,
higher intake of oily fish and fresh legumes was associated with later
menopause, while additional daily portions of pasta, rice, and savoury snacks
were associated with earlier menopause.
Among childless women,
eating more grapes and poultry was significantly associated with later
Egg maturation and
release are adversely affected by reactive oxygen species, so a high intake of
legumes, which contain antioxidants, may counter this, preserving menstruation
for longer, suggest the researchers, in a bid to explain the findings. And
omega 3 fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish, stimulate antioxidant
capacity in the body.
On the other hand,
refined carbs boost the risk of insulin resistance, which can interfere with
sex hormone activity and boost oestrogen levels, both of which might increase
the number of menstrual cycles and deplete egg supply faster, they say.
Vegetarians consume a lot
of antioxidants too, but they are also likely to eat a lot more fibre and less
animal fat than carnivores, both of which are associated with low oestrogen
levels, which may also alter the timing of the menopause, suggest the
This is an observational
study, and as such, can’t prove causality. Food Frequency Questionnaires are
subject to faulty recall, and the study sample was also more affluent and
health conscious than average, all of which might have influenced the findings.
But women who go through
the menopause early are at increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease,
while those who go through it late are at increased risk of breast, womb, and
ovarian cancers, so timing matters, say the researchers.
And they conclude:
“Our findings confirm that diet may be associated with the age at natural
menopause. This may be relevant at a public health level since age at natural
menopause may have implications on future health outcomes.”
1. Yashvee Dunneram, Darren
Charles Greenwood, Victoria J Burley, Janet E Cade. Dietary intake and age
at natural menopause: results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study. Journal
of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2018; DOI: 10.1136/jech-2017-209887