Health

Researchers Link Elements of Med Diet to Delayed Menopause

Researchers have postulated, in the first UK study of its kind, that specific foods (namely fish and legumes) may affect the age at which women commence menopause.

Jun. 27, 2018
By Jacqueline Parisi

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New research out of the UK revealed that two inte­gral ele­ments of the Mediterranean diet, fish and legumes, may delay the onset of nat­ural menopause, while a diet rich in refined car­bo­hy­drates, such as pasta and rice, may accel­er­ate it.

The results, which were pub­lished online in the Journal of Epidemiology And Community Health, revealed that each addi­tional por­tion of oily fish and antiox­i­dant-rich legumes was asso­ci­ated with a delay of three and one years, respec­tively. And for refined car­bo­hy­drates, 1.5 years ear­lier.

Although sev­eral socioe­co­nomic and repro­duc­tive fac­tors have been proven to affect age at nat­ural menopause, the lim­ited amount of exist­ing stud­ies taking diet into account have pre­sented con­flict­ing results.

“I think in part it is because diet is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, and also there are a few large enough follow-up stud­ies on women of the right age which could look at this,” explained Yashvee Dunneram, researcher at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, in an inter­view for Olive Oil Times. “And per­haps, con­tro­ver­sially,” she added, “in a male-dom­i­nated fund­ing pri­or­i­ti­za­tion cli­mate no one has thought to study this aspect of women’s health through the life course.”

The study involved a group of more than 35,000 women from England, Scotland and Wales who fell between the ages of 35 and 69. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion on weight, phys­i­cal activ­ity, repro­duc­tive his­tory and hor­mone replace­ment ther­apy — all of which were con­sid­ered poten­tially influ­en­tial fac­tors — par­tic­i­pants were asked to com­plete a food fre­quency ques­tion­naire to assess their diet at base­line.

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Four years later, researchers com­piled data on when the women under­went nat­ural menopause — or the per­ma­nent ces­sa­tion of men­strual peri­ods for at least 12 con­sec­u­tive months — and used regres­sion mod­el­ing to assess whether there were any asso­ci­a­tions with diet.

In addi­tion to fish and legumes, the study revealed that higher intakes of vit­a­min B6 and zinc were asso­ci­ated with later menopause. On the con­trary, a meat-heavy diet, sim­i­lar to refined car­bo­hy­drates, was asso­ci­ated with a has­ten­ing inci­dence of menopause.

Although this was an obser­va­tional study with­out proof of causal­ity, researchers have spec­u­lated that the rela­tion­ship between antiox­i­dants and DNA-dam­ag­ing free rad­i­cals (also known as reac­tive oxygen species, or ROS) may partly explain the asso­ci­a­tion.

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“Oily fish is a rich source of omega‑3 fatty acid which can poten­tially improve antiox­i­dant capac­ity,” explained Dunneram. “Therefore, in a sim­i­lar way to the fresh legumes and vit­a­mins… the antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties exerted by the oily fish intake could pos­si­bly offset ROS, there­fore decreas­ing the pro­por­tion of fol­li­cles under­go­ing fol­lic­u­lar atre­sia and delay­ing onset of nat­ural menopause.”

Refined car­bo­hy­drates, on the other hand, are widely con­sid­ered to be a risk factor for insulin resis­tance, which researchers believe may increase estro­gen levels and lead, in turn, to early menopause.

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The reason timing is so impor­tant? There are risk fac­tors asso­ci­ated with both early and late menopause — includ­ing osteo­poro­sis and heart dis­ease for women with an ear­lier onset, and breast, endome­trial and ovar­ian can­cers for those with a later onset. The aver­age age of menopause, accord­ing to the study, was 51.

“This may be rel­e­vant at a public health level since age at nat­ural menopause may have impli­ca­tions on future health out­comes,” con­cluded Dunneram. “Health prac­ti­tion­ers might thus also need to take into account the diet of women when deal­ing with menopause-related issues.”