Can you eat to delay menopause? If so, should you?
According to a recent study, eating a diet full of fish and legumes can delay natural menopause—and loading up on refined carbohydrates can make it come on more quickly. The research was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Researchers looked at dietary information from about 9,000 women ages 35 to 69 as part of the UK Women’s Cohort Study (it consists of women from England, Scotland and Wales). After they eliminated information on women who became pregnant, used hormone replacement therapy or had menopause induced by surgery, there were 914 women who went through menopause naturally (that is, after the age of 40 and before the age of 65.) The average age for reaching menopause was 51. The women reported their dietary information.
The researchers believe that refined carbs—think pasta and rice—triggered women to go into menopause 1.5 years earlier. Portions of oily fish and legumes—such as peas and beans—was linked to a delay of more than three years. Higher intakes of vitamin B6 and zinc (per mg/day) were also linked to later menopause.
Refined carbs increase the risk of insulin resistance, which can impact sex hormone activity and boost estrogen levels—something that could boost the number of menstrual cycles and deplete egg supply faster, leading to a sooner.
Vegetarians consume a lot of antioxidants and they are likely to eat diets higher in fiber than meat compared to carnivores. As such they may have lower estrogen levels that could alter menopause timing.
It’s an observational study, though, so don’t go thinking that it proves eating too much pasta will bring menopause earlier.
Women who go through menopause at an earlier age have a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, while those reach it later have higher risk of female-related cancers.
“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,” the authors said in a statement.
Can Your Diet Impact Menopause Timing?
“Increasing research is connecting diet to fertility, and now we have data connecting it to timing of menopause,” Sharon Palmer, RDN, a dietitian from California, told HelloFlo. “The same overall trends are being revealed, diets high in antioxidants and omega-3s may be protective of fertility (and this study hints at delayed menopause), while diets high in refined carbs and red meat may be linked with lower fertility rates and now this study suggests earlier menopause.”
She said that more needs to be understood about how diet may affect menopause timing before people rush to conclusions. Some studies show that soy has been linked with reduced menopausal symptoms, she noted.
“We know that inflammation and oxidative stress are both linked to signs and diseases of aging, and it may be linked in this area, as well,” Palmer said.
“The good news is that this style of eating [plant-based] is good for your heart, mind, and overall health, so there is no downside,” she added.
Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, a dietitian from California, told HelloFlo that nutrition and eating can definitely impact aspects of female life and reproduction. But more research is needed before conclusions can be made about what foods affect menopause timing.
“But, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with (and quite frankly it’s actually quite amazing for one’s lifelong health) to improve dietary habits now by increasing intakes of omega-3 heart-healthy fats and our produce loving friends,” Shaw added.