Regularly eating oily fish and fresh legumes delays the onset of natural menopause by around 3 years, reveals a new published analysis of data from the UK Women’s Cohort Study. Higher intake of vitamin B6 and zinc were also associated with modestly delayed menopause. Conversely, consuming refined pasta and rice was linked to an earlier natural menopause by 1.5 years, and likewise, vegetarian women had an earlier natural menopause than nonvegetarians.
Study participants were women aged 40–65 years who had experienced a natural menopause from the UK Women’s Cohort Study between baseline and first follow-up. Natural menopause was defined as the permanent cessation of menstrual periods for at least 12 consecutive months. A food frequency questionnaire was used to estimate diet at baseline. Reproductive history of participants was also recorded. Regression modeling, adjusting for confounders, was used to assess associations between diet and age at natural menopause.
To summarize, this study shows that high intakes of oily fish and fresh legumes as well as vitamin B6 and zinc are associated with a later onset of natural menopause while a high consumption of refined pasta and rice is associated with an earlier age at natural menopause. One possible explanation proposed by researchers is that oily fish intake (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) can potentially improve antioxidant capacity, thereby offsetting the adverse effects of reactive oxygen species and decreasing follicle breakdown, delaying the onset of natural menopause. The antioxidant properties of legumes are thought to have a similar effect on delaying menopause.
High refined-carbohydrate intake, however, is known to increase insulin resistance, which in turn affects estrogen levels, causing the release of luteinizing hormone to trigger ovulation, and thereby may cause more cycles and rapid depletion of oocytes, leading to earlier menopause.
The study also demonstrated that women who were vegetarian had an earlier age at natural menopause compared with non-vegetarians. The mechanism is not well understood, but researchers believe that the vegetarian diet, which normally consists of high fiber and lacks animal fat, may affect the levels of the luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone and the length of the menstrual cycle. Previous studies have demonstrated that high fiber and decreased fat intakes were both associated with a lower estrogen level, which may account for the earlier age at natural menopause among vegetarians.
What are the implications of these influences? Women with an earlier onset of menopause spend more years deprived from the benefits of estrogen compared with women who become menopausal around the normal menopausal age range (48-55), which puts them at a greater risk of certain poor health outcomes such as osteoporosis and heart disease. On the other hand, women beginning menopause later have a greater risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers. The ability to influence the timing of menopause may also be attractive to women who are trying to remain fertile longer.
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