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Diet and the start of the menopause

In the first UK study examining the relationship between diet and the start of the menopause researchers have found certain food groups could affect the age at which the menopause begins.

Research by the University of Leeds has examined the links between diet and the onset of menopause in British women. The study showed that high intake of healthy foods, such as oily fish and fresh legumes, such as peas and green beans were associated with a later onset of the menopause, while a high consumption of refined white pasta and rice was associated with an earlier start.

The study used data from more than 14,150 women living in the UK. Along with a detailed diet questionnaire, an initial survey collected information on reproductive history and health. When a follow up survey and questionnaire were conducted four years later, researchers were able to assess the diets of the women who had experienced the onset of a natural menopause in the interim.

The average age at the start of the menopause for women in the UK is 51 years. More than 900 women between the ages of 40 and 65 had experienced a natural start of their menopause at the time of the follow-up survey, meaning they had not had menstrual periods for at least 12 consecutive months and menopause had not been brought on by such things as cancer, surgery or pharmaceutical treatments.

Analysis of their diet showed that high intakes of oily fish were associated with a delayed start to menopause by nearly three years. A diet with lots of refined pasta and rice showed that menopause was more likely to occur one and a half years earlier than average.

Study co-author, Janet Cade, Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology and Public Health at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said: "The age at which menopause begins can have serious health implications for some women.

"A clear understanding of how diet affects the start of natural menopause will be very beneficial to those who may already be at risk or have a family history of certain complications related to menopause."

Previous studies have suggested that earlier onset of menopause is associated with lower bone density, osteoporosis and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. While later menopause has been associated with a higher risk for breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Study lead author, Yashvee Dunneram, a postdoctoral researcher also at the School of Food Science and Nutrition said: "There are a number of causes that have been considered for the relationship between age and start of menopause, such as genetic factors or behavioural and environmental exposures. But there are fewer studies that look at the impact of diet.

"This study is the first to investigate the links between individual nutrients and a wide variety of food groups and age at natural menopause in a large cohort of British women. But further studies are needed to improve understanding on how this may impact health and wellbeing."

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Age at natural menopause is a matter of concern for women of reproductive age as both an early or late menopause may have implications for health outcomes.

METHODS:
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 modelling, adjusting for confounders, was used to assess associations between diet and age at natural menopause.

RESULTS:
During the 4-year follow-up period, 914 women experienced a natural menopause. A high intake of oily fish and fresh legumes were associated with delayed onset of natural menopause by 3.3 years per portion/day (99% CI 0.8 to 5.8) and 0.9 years per portion/day (99% CI 0.0 to 1.8), respectively. Refined pasta and rice was associated with earlier menopause (per portion/day: -1.5 years, 99% CI -2.8 to -0.2). A higher intake of vitamin B6 (per mg/day: 0.6 years, 99% CI 0.1 to 1.2) and zinc (per mg/day: 0.3 years, 99% CI -0.0 to 0.6) was also associated with later age at menopause. Stratification by age at baseline led to attenuated results.

CONCLUSION:
Our results suggest that some food groups (oily fish, fresh legumes, refined pasta and rice) and specific nutrients are individually predictive of age at natural menopause. 

Reference

Yashvee Dunneram, Darren C Greenwood, Victoria J Burley and Janet E Cade. Dietary intake and age at natural menopause: results from the UK Women's Cohort Study in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health on 30 April 2018 (DOI: 10.1136/jech-2017-209887)

Content updated May 2018 

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