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Timing of Menopause Linked to Diet

Eating a lot of fish and legumes may help delay menopause, according to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. On the other hand, eating too many refined carbohydrates may help bring it on sooner. That’s a concern, because earlier menopause may increase your risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis.

The study included more than 14,000 British women, ages 40 to 65. Initially, the women provided information about their dietary habits and health history. The researchers then tracked who went through menopause over the next four years.

Which Foods Delay Menopause?

These foods were associated with a later age of menopause:

  • Fresh legumes (in other words, fresh beans and peas)

  • Oily fish (for example, salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna)

Eating more of these foods was associated with starting menopause one to three years later, on average. What’s the likely connection? The researchers noted that unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species can interfere with women’s monthly cycles. Fresh legumes are packed with antioxidants that counter these unstable molecules, and oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that boost the body’s antioxidant capacity.

Which Foods Hasten Menopause?

The study showed that these foods were associated with earlier menopause:

  • Refined carbs (specifically white rice and pasta)

  • Savory snacks (for example, chips, pretzels, and crackers), in some women

A higher intake of refined carbs was linked to reaching menopause a year and a half earlier, on average. Why? The researchers speculated that insulin resistance may be involved. Insulin resistance occurs when body cells can’t use insulin properly. Among other things, this can affect women’s sex hormone levels—and that, in turn, may affect the timing of menopause. A diet high in refined carbs increases your risk of developing insulin resistance.

Chew On This

Among American women, the average age of menopause is 52. In addition to what you eat, other factors that increase your chance of going through menopause at a younger-than-average age include smoking, genetics, and certain health conditions (for example, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome).

Once you go through menopause, you lose the protective effects of higher estrogen levels for your heart and bones. Women who experience early menopause also tend to have more severe menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. If you are a woman looking ahead to menopause, that’s one more good reason to make smart choices about what you eat.

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