A diet rich in fish and legumes may help to delay the menopause, while eating lots of refined carbs, such as pasta and rice, may hasten it, researchers have found.
The study of women from England, Scotland, and Wales, which is the first of its kind in the UK, found the average age of menopause to be 51 and certain foods seemed to be associated with its timing.
The researchers found having a high intake of oily fish and fresh legumes - such as peas and beans - was associated with a menopause delay of more than three years. Higher intakes of vitamin B6 and zinc were also associated with later menopause.
In contrast, each eating lots of refined carbs - specifically pasta and rice - was associated with reaching the menopause 1.5 years earlier.
To explore the links between menopause and diet, 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.
The women provided information on potentially influential factors such as weight history, physical activity levels, reproductive history, and use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
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 culinary uses. Further information on when the women had gone through the menopause naturally was gathered four years later.
In all, around 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 researchers said each additional portion of oily fish and fresh legumes a woman ate per day was associated with a delay of menopause of 3.3 years. Speaking to HuffPost UK, study author Professor Janet Cade was keen to point out this does not mean menopause is delayed by 3.3 years each time you eat a portion of fish. Instead, the research looks at women’s habitual intake. For example, a woman who routinely eats two portions of fish per day will experience menopause on average three years later than a woman who only eats one portion per day.
Following the same principle, 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 influential factors such as weight.
Omega 3 fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish, stimulate antioxidant capacity in the body and legumes are also high in antioxidants. The researchers have suggested antioxidants may preserve menstruation for longer by impacting the release of eggs.
In contrast, 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 said.
They stressed though that the findings were taken from an observational study, and as such, more research is needed to see if food does definitely cause changes to a woman’s menstrual cycle.
The research is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.